23andMe Looking for the Next Big Drug
Personal genomics company 23andMe, known for its consumer genetic tests has raised close to $200 million in its latest round of funding. This brings the company’s pre-money valuation to about $1, 75 billion, and it doesn’t come as a surprise that it has nothing to do with their spit kits.
Back in 2015, 23andMe shared its DNA data with two leading giants within pharma and biotech, namely Pfizer and Genetech. Already back then, the company worked with Genetech to generate whole genome sequencing data from Parkinson’s sufferers to identify new potential targets. This week, the company showed off the latest results of that effort, turning up more than a dozen new mutations associated with the disease.
On Monday, researchers from 23andMe, the National Institute on Ageing and Genetech published the largest meta-analysis of Parkinson’s disease to date, using data from more than 425,000 people, were more than 3/4 of that data were 23andMe customers.
The next step is for Genetech to sequence the full genomes of 3,000 of 23andMe’s Parkinson’s patients. The volunteers have answered all sorts of questions, from how their disease is progressing to what treatments they’ve tried, and how well they worked.
By digging deep into all three billion bae pairs, the pharma giant hopes to get past the most common traits of Parkinson’s. Alternatively, they’re looking for those rare variants, the one’s that destroy more biological machinery than average, leaving a trail that’s easier to track.
“They’re the extreme breaks in the system,” says Rob Graham, senior scientist at Genetech, and co-author of the paper.
When the last volunteer has been sequenced for the project, Genetech will have exclusive access to the data for two years – then, it’s open for the whole scientific community to use.
But it’s still a long road ahead, despite the head start:
“Personalised medicine is more challenging in Parkinson’s, than in, say, cancer, because of the complex heritability of the traits,” Graham says.
No drug has been found yet, but at least, 23andMe has a plan to find one.