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Data from Direct-to-Consumer Genetic Tests Used To Create a Drug for Inflammatory Diseases

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At the beginning of the year, direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic testing company 23andMe announced that they have generated a bispecific antibody that blocks the IL-36 cytokine family associated with multiple inflammatory diseases. 23andMe have out-licensed this drug to the pharmaceutical company Almirall in order to "leverage Almirall's expertise in medical dermatology and accelerate the development of the preclinical program".

23andMe have a Therapeutics team that was established in 2015 to utilize human genetic information to improve drug discovery approaches. This team identified novel therapeutic targets using the data collected from 23andMe customers and generates lead compounds for these targets.

Technology Networks spoke to Christine Pai from 23andMe to learn more about the latest developments and to discuss their collaboration with GlaxoSmithKline.

Molly Campbell (MC): How can the data from DTC genetic testing be utilized in the development of novel drugs? How does genetic information contribute to this process?

Christine Pai (CP): More than 80% of 23andMe customers consent to participating in research. It’s through this genetic and phenotypic research that can help provide new insights into patterns of disease and causes, and how they can be treated. Genetic information can contribute to new target drug discovery and development of new disease insights, medicines and possibly cures. 

Video credit: 23andMe.

MC: 23andMe recently signed an agreement allowing Almirall to in-license the bispecific monoclonal antibody that blocks the IL-36 cytokine family. Please can you tell us about the development of this antibody, it's indication and why you have decided to partner with Almirall?

The IL-36 program was initiated based on studies of rare genetic loss-of-function variants in psoriasis, including severe pustular psoriasis. The antibody engineering team at 23andMe created a bi-specific antibody that uniquely blocks all three forms of IL-36: α, β and γ. 23andMe has decided to collaborate with Almirall to leverage Almirall’s expertise in medical dermatology so the company can accelerate the development of this preclinical program. 

MC: 23andMe currently has a portfolio of research programs across multiple disease areas. Please can you tell us more about this research, your aims and any specific details about the disease areas? 

We have several programs across a variety of therapeutic areas - we’ll be able to disclose more later in the year. 

MC: 23andMe also collaborates with GlaxoSmithKline in drug development. Can you tell us more about this collaboration?

23andMe and GlaxoSmithKline have entered into an exclusive agreement to fuel drug discovery. The companies will leverage 23andMe’s rich genotypic and phenotypic database and proprietary statistical analytics to fuel drug target discovery, with the goal of co-discovering novel targets that can progress into development.

The collaboration is going well. We are progressing several programs and hope to have our first program in a clinical trial this year. 

MC: Do 23andMe envision ever pursuing human clinical trials internally, rather than licensing the rights to other companies?

This is a significant milestone for our therapeutic efforts as the first program we’ve out licensed. We’ll continue working on progressing our own portfolio and the programs we are working on with GSK.

We also hope it’s exciting for customers who are participating in research to see their data being used to advance new therapies. 

MC: What is your vision for 23andMe for the next five years?

CP: 23andMe will continue to focus on its consumer and therapeutics businesses.

Christine Pai, 23andMe, was speaking to Molly Campbell, Science Writer, Technology Networks.