UK firm buys Sardinian DNA samples for research into disease and ageing

Tiziana Life Sciences says prevalence of centenarians in Ogliastra region of Italian island is almost 50 times that of UK or US

A British biotech company hopes a genetic study of a population in eastern Sardinia with an unusually high number of centenarians could help to develop new drugs and therapies.

Tiziana Life Sciences has bought a biobank containing DNA samples from 13,000 genealogically linked residents of Ogliastra for 258,000 (217,000).

Napoleone Ferrara, Tizianas chairman, said the deal gave the company a chance to study DNA samples from a homogeneous and well-characterised population, which could advance its understanding of ageing and disease. The company said the proportion of centenarians in Ogliastra was almost 50 times that found in the UK or the US.

A 2004 study found that life expectancy for both women and men in the central-eastern region of Sardinia was significantly higher than for residents in the rest of the island.

The study was unable to determine the causes of its subjects longevity, but researchers said most areas with the longest-lived populations so-called blue zones were in mountainous regions, and that suggested a high rate of inbreeding and a low immigration rate as a possible explanation for the development of a genetic pool in which the population seemed to be protected from certain diseases.

Shoppers at a market in Sardinia. Photograph: Alamy

The Tiziana deal comes months after US and Italian researchers announced they were launching a study of centenarians in Acciaroli, near Salerno, in southern Italy, including full gene sequencing of 300 residents as well as studies of their dietary histories and cognitive tests.

Alan Maisel, a researcher from the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, said Acciaroli residents lived long lives despite some unhealthy habits and tendencies, including smoking and obesity. He said the elderly residents ate a lot of rosemary and oily fish, walked on hilly terrain and had active sex lives.

The Ogliastra samples, collected by a company called Shardna SpA, based in Cagliari, are not the first to have been bought by a biotech company looking to boost its repository.

Amgen, the US biotech group, bought deCode Genetics in 2012 for $415m (then worth 260m) to get access to the Icelandic companys huge database of genomic data. In May, Amgen announced that its deCode unit had discovered a rare genetic variation associated with a person having lower-than-average risk of heart disease.

Individuals who have the variant of the gene were found to have much lower levels of so-called bad cholesterol, a finding that could lead to the development of new drugs to fight cardiovascular disease.

Scientists at Tiziana will now try to discover what sets the genes from Ogliastra apart from others. We believe our management team, who have collectively been instrumental in the discovery and development of blockbuster drugs such as Avastin and broadly adopted diagnostics such as the PSA test for prostate cancer, have the capability, expertise and insights to discover new drugs and diagnostics to address important unmet medical needs using this biobank resource, the company said.

Read more: