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Genentech, 23andMe to Analyze Parkinson’s Genome Data

Brain networks illustration

(DARPA.mil)

6 January 2015. Personal genomics company 23andMe plans to analyze the genomes of 3,000 of its clients to discover new Parkinson’s disease drug targets for biotechnology company Genentech, a division of the pharmaceutical company Roche. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

23andMe, in Mountain View, California, provides genetic ancestry testing services, but also forms communities around various disease conditions, and offers its data to companies developing therapies for those conditions. One of those communities is for Parkinson’s disease. The company says more than 10,000 people diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease — including former heavyweight boxing champion Muhammed Ali — as well as others without the condition, already provided saliva samples for genetic analysis. Community participants also complete online surveys related to the disease.

Parkinson’s disease occurs when the brain produces less and less of the substance dopamine, a neurotransmitter that sends signals from one nerve cell to another. As the level of dopamine lowers, individuals become less able to control their bodily movements and emotions. Symptoms include tremors, i.e. shaking, slowness and rigidity in movements, loss of facial expression, decreased ability to control blinking and swallowing, and in some cases, depression and anxiety. According to National Parkinson Foundation, some 50,000 to 60,000 new cases of Parkinson’s disease are diagnosed each year.

Genetics are believed to play a role in determining an person’s likelihood of developing Parkinson’s disease, although many more people are likely to have genes associated with the disorder rather than directly causing it. A study published in June 2011, in which 23andMe took part, identified two more genetic associations not previously known, as well as validating 20 known associations.

In the new multi-year project, 23andMe plans to conduct for Genetech whole genome sequencing of some 3,000 members from its Parkinson’s disease community, and combine those data with results from online surveys about members’ experiences with the disorder. Whole genome sequencing provides the order of DNA bases making up an individual’s genetic code, including variations associated with disease conditions, in this case Parkinson’s disease.

Genentech, in South San Francisco, plans to analyze the findings to reveal new Parkinson’s disease therapy targets. The company says its research covers neurodegenerative disorders, including Parkinson’s disease, but so far has treatment candidates in its pipeline for Alzheimer’s disease and multiple sclerosis reaching clinical stages.

23andMe says the agreement allows the company to conduct further analyses of the data on its own, as well as share the results with other Parkinson’s disease researchers, once the collaboration with Genentech is completed.

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