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18 May, 2022 - 16:14 By Tony Quested

Genetics ace Perry joins Adrestia to spark drug discovery revolution

A global expert in human population genetics has joined a Cambridge company pioneering synthetic rescue therapies for genetic diseases in a move that could trigger a drug discovery revolution.

Cambridge University’s Professor John Perry has become VP of genetics at Adrestia Therapeutics and will develop the company’s human genetics computational platform.

Adrestia is backed by Ahren Capital and global pharma GlaxoSmithKline. While it has never commented publicly, it is understood GSK may have earmarked as much as $1 billion to support Adrestia, which was co-founded in Professor Steve Jackson’s prolific lab at Cambridge University.

Dr Perry has a track record of identifying genetic drivers of complex, multigenic diseases and health-related traits. His expertise will complement Adrestia’s technology platform, which is already progressing a series of first-in-class therapies to treat both rare and common diseases with a genetic component.

Robert Johnson, the CEO of Babraham Research Campus company Adrestia has no doubt about the potential impact of the hire.

He said: “Traditional drug development is risky and expensive. We believe that our synthetic rescue platform, supplemented by John’s expertise in human genetics, offers a new paradigm where the probability of success is markedly higher, the cost of development is dramatically lower and the time to clinical proof of concept is substantially shorter. 

“We warmly welcome John to our team, which is united in a singular mission: to deliver revolutionary new medicines to patients suffering from devastating diseases.”

Large-scale human population analysis will help identify and validate the safety and efficacy of new targets emerging from the company’s platform.

Dr Perry said: “I’m excited to apply these advanced techniques for maximum clinical impact. Combining population genetics with Adrestia’s synthetic rescue platform provides unprecedented opportunities to efficiently unlock new ways of treating some of the world’s most intractable diseases.
“We are on the cusp of a revolution in drug discovery. Within the eight billion living humans, each single base substitution in the genome that is compatible with life is likely to be present somewhere.

“Studying this genetic diversity in population research gives us a hypothesis-free, genome wide screen for identifying and validating genes causing or influencing human disease. 

“Due to advances in genome sequencing technologies and the advent of large-scale population studies, we can now phenotype human genetic knockouts at scale, leading to rapid validation of new drug discovery targets.

“Combining population genetics with Adrestia’s synthetic rescue platform provides unprecedented opportunities to efficiently unlock new ways of treating some of the world’s most intractable diseases.”

Throughout his career and in recent years at the University of Cambridge, Professor Perry has been involved in discovering many of the first genetic drivers of diverse complex diseases including obesity, Type 2 diabetes, reproductive disorders and aspects of behaviour. 

His career has been deeply embedded in the UK’s world-leading projects in population genomic analysis, including the UK Biobank, a ground-breaking resource containing in-depth genetic and health information from half a million participants. 

Despite advances in genetic technologies, many genes known to directly cause disease remain undruggable. Synthetic rescue offers a fresh approach: rather than targeting the causative mutation, a synthetic rescue drug modulates the product of another, functionally connected gene, correcting the effects of the disease mutation and ‘rescuing’ cells from disease. 

The concept is underpinned by a deep understanding of genetic networks, and its therapeutic potential is illustrated in families where a member born with a disease-causing mutation is protected from disease due to a second ‘rescue’ mutation. 

Synthetic rescue presents new opportunities for drug development across all diseases that have a genetic component, including prevalent conditions.

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