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Genentech Partners with 23andMe to Inform its Parkinson's Drug Development Efforts with WGS

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – Genentech will sequence the whole genomes of 3,000 people from 23andMe's Parkinson's disease community in an effort to identify drug targets, the companies announced today.

Under the terms of the deal, 23andMe will be able to conduct additional research on the generated data once the project is completed. Additionally, 23andMe can share the data, scrubbed of patients' identifying information, with other researchers. Only data from 23andMe customers who have consented to participate in the research will be shared, 23andMe said in a statement.

The Parkinson's Disease Foundation estimates there are 1 million people in the US living with the incurable brain disorder. Although there are some drugs that for a time can ameliorate the tremors associated with Parkinson's, there are no drugs that can slow disease progression.

Genentech has been researching the genomic underpinnings of Parkinson's with the hope of developing drugs for the condition. For example, researchers from the company published a paper in Science Translational Medicine in 2012 describing a way to measure the molecular mechanisms by which the LRRK2 kinase becomes overactive and damages nerve cells.

Genentech is in the early stages of investigating an LRRK2 inhibitor, dubbed G1023, in Parkinson's, although it's not clear if this is the main focus of its collaboration with 23andMe. Genentech has filed a patent describing methods of screening for biomarkers to identify those with or at risk for Parkinson's and developing companion diagnostics for evaluating LRRK2 activity. Meanwhile, the Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF), a group 23andMe has long worked with on Parkinson's research, has been studying the safety of LRRK2 inhibitors in pre-clinical models.

According to MJFF, 10 percent of patients with Parkinson's have a genetic cause, and in this subpopulation, mutations in the LRRK2 gene are the best known markers of heightened disease risk. Sergey Brin, Google co-founder and 23andMe CEO Anne Wojcicki's husband, carries an LRRK2 risk mutation. Google also is one of 23andMe's main financial backers.

In a statement, James Sabry, senior VP and global head of Genentech partnering, noted that the company is particularly interested in using 23andMe's "diverse database of genomic data to support [Genentech's] research and development programs."

The Roche subsidiary and 23andMe have worked together before. In 2012, the two firms launched the InVite study, in which they gauged whether patients were willing to participate in a study to identify genetic markers of response to Genentech's breast cancer drug Avastin (bevacizumab). The following year, the firms expanded the eligibility requirements for InVite.

Today's deal comes amid US Food and Drug Administration scrutiny of 23andMe for marketing genetic testing directly to consumers. The company's interactions with the FDA don't restrict its research efforts, however, and 23andMe has focused on growing its collaborations with pharma companies in particular.