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Pfizer teams up with Google-backed 23andMe

Published on 13/08/14 at 08:44am
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Pfizer and genetics testing firm 23andMe have come together in a research pact aimed at finding the genetic cause of 10,000 American patients with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).

Around 1.4 million people in the US suffer from IBD according to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and whilst it is known to be more common in developed countries, the exact cause of this chronic illness is still unknown and there is no cure.

The collaboration is designed to explore the underlying genetics of IBD and it is hoped that the effort will ultimately lead to potential new or improved treatments for the disease.

Although there are no cures for either Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis, Pfizer is testing its approved Xeljanz (tofacitinib citrate) arthritis pill as well as four experimental drugs against one or both conditions. Pfizer does not however currently sell any IBD treatments.

Neither companies released any financial details about the deal, or about any potential rights to treatments that could emerge from the collaboration.

“We are excited to team up with Pfizer to take an innovative, consumer-centred approach to try to understand the fundamentals of inflammatory bowel disease and the variability of treatment response,” says 23andMe chief executive and co-founder Anne Wojcicki.

“Pfizer is committed to bringing forward new treatments for patients suffering with IBD,” adds Jose Carlos Gutierrez-Ramos, senior VP of biotherapeutics research and development at Pfizer.

“By enhancing our understanding of the underlying biology of the disease, we hope to better support our clinical research activities and development programmes.”

All study participants will receive 23andMe’s Personal Genome Service at no cost, including their ancestry analysis and uninterpreted raw genetic data. 

23andMe will recruit individuals who are not current 23andMe customers, and have also been diagnosed with Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis by a qualified doctor. The study is currently open to US residents only.

Of the personal genome testing companies – of which there are many – 23andMe may be the best known chiefly because it is backed by Google. The firm is also run by Wojcicki, the wife of Google founder Sergey Brin, although they are now separated.

The biggest research effort by 23andMe to date, announced in 2009, recruited more than 10,000 people to identify genetic links to Parkinson’s disease.

Although two gene mutations were linked to the progressive neurological disease, they were not deemed treatable with drugs.

But 23andMe has not had an easy time of late however, and last year it received a scathing warning from the FDA over a DNA testing kit it was selling that was not approved by the US regulator.

It now no longer offers this testing product after failing to put the testing kit through the FDA’s regulatory process.

Ben Adams 

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