23andMe and GSK start clinical trials for cancer drug

In 2018, GlaxoSmithKline announced a $300M, four-year partnership with at-home genetic testing company, 23andMe. The collaboration was set to aid in the research and development of new medicines and potential cures for diseases, using genetics data as the basis for research. 23andMe’s 10 million+ customer base would also have the opportunity to gain more insights into their genetic profile as it relates to health and disease.

The partnership, which is now halfway, announced today that earlier this month, they enrolled their first patient in early-stage clinical trials for a new cancer drug. The drug essentially releases an antibody that seeks to block CD96, a receptor protein which plays a critical role in regulating the body’s immune responses. This approach seeks to address CD96 so that by blocking its functions, CD155, the molecule often associated with malignant tumours, will as a consequence, be inhibited. Both 23andMe and GSK had previously been looking to address CD96, but through this partnership, GSK was able to tap into 23andMe’s existing work using a much larger database, to validate their own research.

GSK has taken a substantial financial stake in the partnership with 23andMe because the ability to share such a wide-ranging voluntary database would take conventional pharma companies years to develop. The potential of such information-sharing processes could pave the way for groundbreaking drug innovation. Currently, the collaboration already has 30 projects underway exploring potential innovations in oncology, immunology, neurology, cardiovascular and metabolic disease.

“This is a new way of thinking about drug development,” Hal Barron, GSK’s chief scientific officer and president of research and development, said in an interview. Although it’s highly unlikely that all of these programs will result in approved medicines, Barron is an advocate of using genetics as the basis for research, will result in a higher probability of developing effective treatments.