Pfizer, 23andMe unite to decode bowel disease

Pfizer ($PFE) is reaching out to the Google ($GOOG)-backed genomics outfit 23andMe to better understand the root causes of inflammatory bowel disease, looking to mine patient data for clues that could bolster its growing pipeline.

The plan is to enroll 10,000 patients with either Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis, providing each with one of 23andMe's personal spit kits and an online questionnaire. Using the resulting geno- and phenotypic data, Pfizer and its partner hope to shed light on IBD, an incurable ailment that affects about 1.4 million Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The end result, ideally, will be a makeshift registry of patient outcomes, allowing Pfizer to keep tabs on the genetic factors tied to IBD's onset, progression, severity and treatment response, deepening the company's grasp of the disease's underlying biology. That information should benefit the drugmaker's work in the field, which includes mid-stage studies on tofacitinib for Crohn's disease and two Phase II antibodies with broad applications in IBD, the company said.

For Pfizer, the deal follows an April agreement with Merck KGaA and the Big Data experts at the Broad Institute, under which the two pharmas signed up to help sequence the genes of patients with two forms of lupus. The drugmakers plan to share any resulting precompetitive discoveries, fueling their own proprietary programs targeting the disease.

The Mountain View, CA-headquartered 23andMe has previously paired up with Roche's ($RHHBY) Genentech to study patients taking the breast cancer treatment Avastin, later reaching a deal with Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) and CRO giant Quintiles ($Q) to gather data on rheumatoid arthritis sufferers on anti-TNF therapies.

The Pfizer agreement serves as something of an affirmation for the company, which has run into regulatory scrutiny with its Personal Genome Service. 23andMe initially marketed its over-the-counter saliva test as a window into a patient's health, providing feedback on genetic predispositions, drug reactions and disease probabilities. However, after the FDA stepped in last year and chided the company for essentially selling a diagnostic service without agency clearance, 23andMe curtailed its service, offering only ancestry information to its new customers.

- read the statement

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story misstated the nature of 23andMe's earlier partnerships. We regret the error.

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