The Michael J. Fox Foundation has a long-standing relationship with 23andMe, helping recruit members for its Parkinsonís Community study and collaborating on research projects such as our LRRK2 Cohort Consortium.
Paul Cannon, PhD, who leads the 23andMe Parkinsonís Community, spoke with us about the companyís recent news and what it means for Parkinsonís disease (PD) drug development.
MJFF: What can you tell us about the 23andMe partnership with Genentech?
Paul Cannon: The deal with Genentech is a collaboration to whole genome sequence approximately 3,000 individuals with Parkinsonís or with a first-degree relative with PD. (The ratio is yet to be determined.) Itís a unique opportunity to learn more about the genetics of people with Parkinsonís disease and hopefully identify novel targets and biological pathways.
MJFF: How can genomic sequencing lead to new targets and treatments?
PC: Itís obviously the start of a long process, but one of the principle aims is to discover new therapeutic targets for Parkinsonís disease and specifically for disease-modifying therapies. There are a number of interesting therapies in development, but we need more shots on goal.
Through whole genome sequencing, weíll look for genetic variants such as small deletions or insertions that are difficult to detect with our present mapping-based approach. Itís a more thorough interrogation of the genome made feasible by the decreased cost of whole genome sequencing and the analysis methods that have come along hand-in-hand.
MJFF: What is the difference between genomic sequencing and what you get from the 23andMe spit test?
PC: In whole genome sequencing youíre interrogating the majority of a personís genome [complete DNA sequence]: every position of the approximately 3 billion base pairs that we have in our genome. The single nucleotide polymorphism [SNP pronounced SNIP] genotyping that 23andMe traditionally uses currently interrogates around 650,000 markers on the genome. Those are the mileposts, where sequencing looks at every section of the road.
MJFF: How can people with Parkinsonís disease get involved?
PC: For this study, weíll be recruiting from the existing 23andMe Parkinsonís Community. Weíre defining the genetic and clinical profiles that will give us the highest chance of success, and those individuals will be invited from the existing database.
That said, we encourage those not yet in the 23andMe Parkinsonís Community to join us. There will definitely be future projects; this wonít be our only effort.
MJFF: Speaking of other efforts, 23andMe recently launched its own Therapeutics Group. What can you tell us about the aims there?
PC: Itís very exciting to have the opportunity to work with an in-house team that is focused on development of therapeutics. Weíve obviously worked with commercial partners on drug discovery, and weíll continue to do so. Iím hoping to work with them on potential projects for Parkinsonís research, but thatís still to be determined.
I canít speak for them, but theyíll mine interesting data, presumably, and look for opportunities that pop out across the broad spectrum of diseases represented in 23andMe. Theyíre using human genetics to drive therapeutic discovery and to improve development of drugs by matching patients with the right drugs through the use of genetics.
MJFF: Thanks for your time, Paul. Anything else you want our audience to know?
PC: My pleasure. As a last note, Iíd just say that we continue to look to work with partners across the Parkinsonís disease research community. There are opportunities for other collaborations and projects, and weíll work together to continue to push forward Parkinsonís research, ultimately for a cure.
Learn more about the 23andMe Parkinsonís Community.