23andMe Ramps Up Its Focus on Parkinson’s Disease With Help from Google Co-Founder

23andMe, a Silicon Valley- based personal genomics company, made headlines March 12 when it announced a project to enroll up to 10,000 people with Parkinson’s to advance research into the disease’s causes. The initiative is being funded by Google co-founder Sergey Brin, who  has a genetic mutation that is linked to the disease. Linda Avey, 23andMe’s co-founder,  spoke to Informilo recently about why the company  is zeroing in on Parkinson’s disease, the evolution of personalized medicine and the firm’s international expansion. Click on the video.

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The aim of the new study is to allow 23andMe to both advance research and create an online forum dedicated to connecting individuals and families affected by Parkinson’s disease. Both the Michael J. Fox Foundation and the Parksinson’s Institute and Clinical Center  are reaching out to Parkinson’s patients in their networks and encouraging them to participate. 

23andMe’s focus on Parkinson’s Disease is not new. The company first announced a research initiative in May of last year designed to improve current methods of collecting information for Parkinson’s research by leveraging the Internet to expand the involvement of Parkinson’s patients in clinical research and increase the frequency and quality of patient data collection. 

The existing model for collecting patient information does not effectively identify genetic and environmental causes of Parkinson’s disease, or novel, transformative therapies for Parkinson’s disease patients, according to 23andMe.  Existing approaches also requires: multiple patient visits to a limited number of skilled clinical sites; time and distant prohibitive visits; costly and labor-intensive on-site efforts. And, the existing model for clinical research does not have access to a large enough pool of study participants to identify the cause and early indicators of Parkinson’s disease.

The expanded initiative announced on March 12 is made possible through funding by Google co-founder Sergey Brin, who is married to 23andMe co-founder Anne Wojicki. Brin’s mother has Parkinson’s and he discovered through 23andMe that he has a genetic predisposition to the disease, the company said. Brin’s personal donation will “substantially underwrite” the cost of genotyping the participants, who will pay only $25 compared with the usual commercial price of $399, according to a 23andMe press release. Individuals who join through either the Parkinson’s Institute or the Michael J. Fox Foundation are being promised the  same data, information, tools, and access as individuals who have paid full price for the 23andMe Personal Genome Service.

The Parkinson’s disease project could serve as a model for supporting research in many other diseases. To that end, Avey said the company plans to announce similar initiatives around other diseases.

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