AstraZeneca digs into precision medicine with lung, heart deals

* Drugmaker taking personalised healthcare beyond cancer

* Deal with Abbott to develop diagnostic for asthma drug

* Tie-up with Montreal scientists on heart disease genes

By Ben Hirschler

LONDON, May 13 (Reuters) - AstraZeneca is diving deeper into personalised healthcare with two projects that move the concept beyond cancer into respiratory disorders and heart disease.

Personalised or precision medicine, which tailors treatment to a patient's genetic profile, is an increasing focus for drug companies, especially after an initiative from U.S. President Barack Obama in January.

Until now, however, the focus has been on cancer, where genetic mutations are well-known drivers of disease.

"The time is now right to extend the personalised healthcare approach and the benefits it brings to all of our therapy areas," Ruth March, who heads the initiative at the British drugmaker, told reporters.

"Up to now the science of personalised healthcare has been slower to reach those common disease areas such as cardiovascular and respiratory disease."

To redress the balance, AstraZeneca said on Wednesday it had signed two deals, one with Abbott Laboratories for a diagnostic test to accompany an experimental asthma drug and another with Canadian scientists on genes associated with heart disease.

Abbott will develop a diagnostic test to identify patients with severe asthma who are most likely to benefit from AstraZeneca's new antibody drug tralokinumab, which is in final-stage Phase III clinical tests.

To date, there are no such approved blood tests for use in asthma.

A separate tie-up with the Montreal Heart Institute will screen samples from up to 80,000 patients for genetic traits linked to cardiovascular disease and diabetes, in a programme that may help doctors work out which patient should take which drug.

By 2020, AstraZeneca expects half of its new drug launches will come with so-called companion diagnostics to identify those patients most likely to benefit from different treatments.

This approach is already used in cancer, with Roche's breast cancer drug Herceptin and AstraZeneca's lung cancer medicine Iressa, for example, given to patients with particular genetic profiles.

Cancer has long been a key area for AstraZeneca, which was the target of a $118 billion attempted takeover last year by Pfizer.

Along with rivals in the field, AstraZeneca will showcase its latest cancer drug advances at the May 29 to June 2 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual meeting in Chicago.

Industry analysts say most attention will be focused on the latest clinical data on AstraZeneca's combination of two experimental medicines, MEDI4736 and tremelimumab, in treating lung cancer.

(Editing by David Holmes)