23andMe Inc, Genentech to analyse genomes of 3,000 Parkinson's patients

Privately held 23andMe Inc and Genentech said earlier this week they intended to work together to generate whole genome sequencing data for about 3,000 people with Parkinson's disease, in a bid to identify new therapeutic targets for treating the degenerative neurological condition.

The genome sequencing and data would be contributed by 23andMe, co-founded by Anne Wojcicki, wife of Google co-founder Sergey Brin, from its Parkinson's disease community. Genentech, a Roche Holding AG unit would work to identify potential therapeutics based on that information.

Parkinson's, which affects about 1 million people in the US, has no cure but symptoms could be improved with some medications.

The agreement between the two companies, after the multi-year deal ended, would allow 23andMe to conduct additional research on the data and make it available to other Parkinson's researchers.

The data would be de-identified and contributed only by individuals who provided explicit permission to 23andMe, according to the company.

Meanwhile, sfgate.com reported that though the companies did not disclose financial terms, a spokeswoman confirmed that 23andMe would receive $10 million initially and up to $50 million in future milestones.

According to a spokeswoman, the deal was the first in seven or eight that 23andMe would unveil in the coming months with major pharmaceutical and biotech companies.

Fighting Parkinson's was a special concern of 23andMe's CEO Anne Wojcicki as her husband, Google co-founder Sergey Brin, discovered from a 23andMe test that he carried a genetic mutation associated with higher rates of Parkinson's.

The couple, who are now separated, had donated over $150 million to the Michael J Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research.

The deal comes at a critical time for 23andMe, which had collected and analysed the DNA of over 800,000 customers by way of mail-home kits that collected saliva. After interpreting the data the company was telling consumers about their ancestral origins and their health.

However, in late 2013, the Food and Drug Administration asked the company to stop offering the latter, over concerns that the information was inaccurate or might lead people to make rash decisions about their health.

Though the FDA move deprived the company of a significant chunk of its revenue, it continued to continued to talk to the FDA about ways to bring back its health service.

In the meantime,  it had tried to make up, for example, by launching its health kits in Canada and, more recently, the UK. It had also earlier teamed up with prominent pharmaceutical companies, such as Pfizer last August, to map the DNA of 10,000 patients with inflammatory bowel disease.