23andMe, the company best known for producing some of the best DNA testing kits, have developed and licensed their own antibody compound to Spanish pharmaceutical company Almirall. The antibody is designed to block a subfamily of proteins known as IL-36 cytokine, which has been linked with dermatological conditions including psoriasis, as well as other inflammatory conditions like Crohn’s disease. The licensing deal will allow Almirall to develop and commercialize the antibody into viable treatments down the line. In short, this means is that genetic data is being now used to create new drugs.
At the moment, the antibody has only been successfully tested in animals, and human testing is a long and rigorous process so there is no guarantee that this compound will ever arrive in an actual commercial product, but it’s an encouraging step for 23andMe all the same. 23andMe started their Therapeutics team in 2015 with the aim of utilizing their vast genetic database to improve drug development. To date the company has sold over 10 million DNA ancestry kits and around 80% of users have consented to have their data available for medical research.
Despite this stated goal, 23andMe has run into trouble with the FDA in the past for making medical claims about the effectiveness of the testing kits. The genetic tests that 23andMe perform are not as thorough as those performed by doctors when searching for disease susceptibility and as such, a DNA test through a private company should never be used in place of professional medical advice.
Despite this controversy, and other concerns about data collection that comes with archiving the genetic information of millions of consumers, this news does represent a significant medical milestone for 23andMe. In a joint statement from both 23andMe and Almirall, Kenneth Hillan., Head of Therapeutics at 23andMe said, "We're pleased to be furthering 23andMe's mission of helping people benefit from genetic insights. As a leader in medical dermatology, we felt Almirall was the best company to take this program forward and ultimately develop an effective therapy for patients."
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