AstraZeneca research reveals unique associations between rare changes in genes and plasma proteins that could improve drug discovery with data from over…

Research published today in Nature provides new insight into human disease by studying how rare changes in genes affect proteins found in human blood, called plasma proteins.1 Findings revealed thousands of never-before-identified associations between these rare genetic variants and plasma proteins, the basis of which will inform future drug discovery research and treatment approaches. This study used data from more than 50,000 individuals in the UK Biobank, making it the largest study of its kind to date.

Proteins are the functional units of cells and play crucial roles throughout the body. Their abundance and function are tightly controlled by genes contained on chromosomes. Therefore, medicines that target genes or proteins that are linked to human disease are much more likely to deliver clinically meaningful outcomes and the more we understand about how genetic variation may affect proteins, the more targeted our drug discovery and development efforts can be.

In this breakthrough study, AstraZeneca researchers studied the effects of rare genetic variants on over 3,000 proteins in the body. Compared with common genetic variants, rare variants offer stronger evidence and unique insights into the direct relationships between genes, proteins, and their roles in disease.

The research team identified more than 4,400 significant ‘protein quantitative trait loci’ – gene variants associated with protein function essential to health. Over three-quarters of these relationships had never been detected and provide additional insight to a companion flagship study analysing common variants in a similar UK Biobank cohort.2 By identifying these novel associations, findings from this study enhance our ability to decipher disease mechanisms and pinpoint new targets for drug discovery, thereby increasing the likelihood of success in early drug development.

Slavé Petrovski, Vice President Centre for Genomics Research, Discovery Sciences, R&D, AstraZeneca said: “To successfully treat a disease, we benefit from understanding the underlying molecular cause. This research breaks new ground showcasing connections between genetic variants and proteins that we have never seen before. We are proud to be sharing our data on these novel connections with the broader global scientific community to encourage scientific progress and enhance our ability to support future research that directly benefits human health in a sustainable manner.”

AstraZeneca is now applying these insights to further scientific understanding of disease mechanisms, possible off-target drug effects, novel target identification, biomarker discovery, among other applications to accelerate drug discovery and development within their R&D pipeline. To ensure that these important new findings have the potential to benefit as many patients as possible and inform collective, future research, AstraZeneca has published all summary statistics from this research on their open-access portal, These data are made open access to academics and researchers worldwide.


AstraZeneca (LSE/STO/Nasdaq: AZN) is a global, science-led biopharmaceutical company that focuses on the discovery, development, and commercialisation of prescription medicines in Oncology, Rare Diseases, and BioPharmaceuticals, including Cardiovascular, Renal & Metabolism, and Respiratory & Immunology. Based in Cambridge, UK, AstraZeneca operates in over 100 countries and its innovative medicines are used by millions of patients worldwide. Please visit and follow the Company on social media @AstraZeneca

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