23andMe announced earlier this month that it is creating an online resource to connect women affected by breast cancer in order to accelerate genomics research for the disease.
The international effort — 23andMe currently markets its personal genomics service in 51 countries — aims to recruit “the largest cohort of women whose lives have been impacted by breast cancer and to build an infrastructure based on genetics that will accelerate consumer-based research of the disease,” 23andMe said in a statement.
This breast cancer research community is the second project under 23andMe’s research umbrella, 23andWe, which the company launched in May. The first 23andWe project focuses on Parkinson’s disease through a partnership with the Michael J. Fox Foundation and the Parkinson’s Institute in Sunnyvale, Calif.
With the Parkinson’s disease project, 23andMe plans to use web-based communities to recruit patients for clinical research with the goal of increasing the quantity and quality of data collected [see PGx Reporter 06-04-2008].
The breast cancer project will follow a similar route.
“Through the development of 23andWe, we have the components in place to start conducting consumer-enabled research,” 23andMe co-founder Linda Avey told Pharmacogenomics Reporter over e-mail this week. “Once we've built a sizable community of women (and men) who've been diagnosed with breast cancer and who have 23andMe accounts, we can create surveys that will collect information that, when layered with the genetic profiles of these individuals, can be used to conduct genome-wide association studies.”
To that end, 23andMe will partner with patient groups to help recruit for these studies, as well as try to turn its current customers into research participants. “Our current customer base … includes an enthusiastic group of women who are excited to get involved,” Avey noted.
"By combining the ability to participate in research with the ability to learn from each other, 23andMe hopes to make a significant contribution to this community."
23andMe said that cancer experts will be responsible for devising the surveys that will help recruit patients. 23andMe has yet to announce which experts and research institutes it will partner with for this project.
The project is also geared to be a kind of patient-empowerment tool: 23andMe said its hope is that participants will learn and discuss the link between the latest research and their genomes; take part in research studies; compare their genomic profiles to family and friends who are also 23andMe customers; and trace their inheritance of genes associated with certain traits.
"Women who have been recently diagnosed with breast cancer can learn a tremendous amount from women who have already been treated," said 23andMe co-founder Anne Wojcicki in a statement. "By combining the ability to participate in research with the ability to learn from each other, 23andMe hopes to make a significant contribution to this community."
As part of its personal genome service, 23andMe customers send saliva samples to a contracted CLIA-certified laboratory for genotyping. The lab uses the Illumina HumanHap550+ BeadChip, which reads more than 550,000 SNPs plus a 23andMe “custom-designed” set that analyzes more than 30,000 additional SNPs.
23andMe has said it will decide on a case-by-case basis whether to recruit patients outside of its customer base for a given study under 23andWe.
According to Avey, 23andMe plans to roll out similar disease-specific communities in the future. She did not elaborate.
As previously reported by Pharmacogenomics Reporter, with the launch of its web-based genetics research arm, 23andMe appears to be evolving into a so-called NewPharmaCo, a new breed of life-sciences company focused on developing pharmacogenomics-based treatments but built with virtual healthcare networks [see PGx Reporter 05-21-2008].
According to a report by the consultancy Deloitte in which it outlined the concept of the NewPharmaCos, these new companies are poised to outperform big pharmas by establishing virtual healthcare networks to forge relationships with patients, starting from predisposition testing to disease treatment.