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23andMe, GSK Ink Exclusive Drug Target Discovery Pact

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – GlaxoSmithKline and 23andMe announced today that they have signed a four-year drug discovery collaboration deal in which both partners will initially contribute 50 percent of the funding, will have the ability to advance targets together or independently, and will share in the proceeds from any new drugs developed within the partnership.

Additionally, GSK said it has made a $300 million equity investment in 23andMe.

Consumer genomics firm 23andMe currently has more than 5 million customers, 80 percent of whom have consented to share their genetic and phenotypic data for research purposes. Within this collaboration, 23andMe and GSK will only utilize deidentified data from consenting customers. GSK is aiming to leverage 23andMe's database and apply genetic data to select drug targets with a higher probability of success, identify subgroups of patients that are more likely to respond to target drugs, more efficiently recruit patients into clinical trials.

"Partnering with 23andMe… will help to shift our research and development organization to be 'driven by genetics,'" GSK CSO Hal Barron said in a statement.

23andMe also has drug development ambitions and launched its own therapeutics group in 2015, headed by former Genentech executive Richard Scheller. Through this partnership, 23andMe — a relatively small player in the drug development field — will benefit from GSK's data sources, in-house target validation and genetics expertise, as well as its manufacturing, commercial operations, and scale.

For the duration of the collaboration, GSK will be 23andMe's exclusive collaborator for drug target discovery, and have the option to extend the four-year partnership into a fifth year. Though 23andMe and GSK will initially fund the drug discovery efforts equally, the companies have certain rights to reduce their funding shares for any programs under the collaboration.

A GSK-23andMe team will each contribute resources and expertise to identifying and prioritizing targets, and the companies expect to advance multiple drug targets per year. Additionally, either company can independently pursue targets that the companies decide not to collaborate on.

To kick off the collaboration, GSK said it will contribute an LRRK2 inhibitor in preclinical development for Parkinson's disease, and will leverage 23andMe's large database of genotype-phenotype associations and statistical analytical tools. Mutations in LRRK2 are known to cause Parkinson's, and 23andMe has a large number of customers who have consented to partake in research and who are aware of their LRRK2 variant status.

23andMe, meanwhile, hasn't yet detailed which initial targets or indications it will pursue within the collaboration. During a conference call to announce the partnership today, Scheller noted that the company has drug discovery projects in a number of areas, including autoimmune disorders, cancer immunotherapy, cardiovascular disease, osteoarthritis, and liver disease.

"Just today we're disclosing [these projects] to GSK," he said.

The companies also said they would publish papers on the discoveries resulting from their collaboration. Although the terms of the tie up with GSK restrict 23andMe from inking any new collaborations around drug target discovery for the next four-to-five years, 23andMe said it will continue to provide data and analyses to academics and researchers in other areas.