Pfizer, 23andMe start building 5,000-person lupus database

Pfizer ($PFE) and 23andMe have begun enrolling people in their lupus study. The partners aim to recruit 5,000 people into the study of the genetics of lupus over the next 12 months, in part by asking existing 23andMe customers to participate.

23andMe CEO Anne Wojcicki

Mountain View, CA-based 23andMe will recruit people with lupus from its existing database and beyond for the initiative, which Pfizer hopes will give it a better understanding of the underlying biology of the disease. To do so, the program will go beyond the scope of 23andMe's day-to-day data-gathering efforts. As well as providing DNA and answers to survey questions, participants will consent to sharing information from their medical records. Having a broad range of data could help researchers to learn which genetic, hormonal and environmental factors are significant in lupus.

The partners are particularly interested in what affects the onset, progression and severity of lupus, as well as why patients respond differently to treatments. "Lupus is an unpredictable and devastating disease for which the treatments can be as debilitating as the disease itself. The more insights that researchers can gain, the faster safer drugs can be developed," Lupus Research Institute CEO Margaret Dowd said in a statement. 23andMe has timed the start of the study to coincide with Lupus Awareness Month and will work with Dowd's team on the program.

Working with Pfizer and the Lupus Research Institute gives 23andMe another opportunity to showcase the potential of its database and continue its pivot into a more drug development-focused organization. 23andMe signed up for the lupus study in January as part of a major expansion of its relationship with Pfizer. The revised deal--which follows a collaboration on a 10,000-person inflammatory bowel disease study--also sees 23andMe support Pfizer with genomewide association studies, surveys and clinical trial enrollment.

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