23andMe stakes a claim on Parkinson's gene

Apparently, the personal genomics outfit 23andMe has ambitions beyond building one of the most extensive databases of Parkinson's genes in the world. The Mountain View, CA-based company has begun to build a portfolio of intellectual property based on the firm's research, expecting its first patent to be issued today to cover the firm's discovery of an SGK1 gene variant that could protect against Parkinson's patients with the LRRK2 G2019S mutation.

According to 23andMe, the patent was sought to ensure that the discovery leads to the development of new treatments for Parkinson's disease, a chronic brain disorder that leads to shaking and loss of motor control. The company, which sells genetic tests to consumers, employs more than 20 scientists who work on breaking new ground. And the company is collaborating with Scripps Research Institute and the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research to do follow-up research on the discovery.

The company said that "the patent will be important for a biotech or pharmaceutical company to pursue drug development" if the further research pans out.

As 23andMe acknowledges, patenting genetic discoveries has carried plenty of controversy, with the cases involving Myriad Genetics ($MYGN) and Prometheus garnering oodles of attention. Yet 23andMe's backers have a lot riding on the future of Parkinson's treatment. Anne Wojcicki, CEO of the company, is married to Google co-founder Sergey Brin, who is a carrier of the LRRK2 gene that is associated with risk of developing Parkinson's. Brin and his wife have donated millions of dollars from their personal wealth to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research to fuel studies of potential treatments against the disease.

Earlier this month, Bloomberg reported that Brin's donations for Parkinson's research had reached $132 million and aided research at drug giants Pfizer ($PFE) and GlaxoSmithKline ($GSK) to discover targeted treatments for the brain disease.

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