Home genetics testing leader 23andMe and GSK have teamed up in the drug development business. The two companies have formed an agreement that—in exchange for a $300m investment in 23andMe—affords GSK exclusive rights to develop drugs from the data collected from those who spit into a 23andMe cup. So, here’s the chain of events: you pay money to learn your genetic ancestry or more money to learn your ancestry and some health risks. 23andMe and GSK get your data. 23andMe and GSK develop and commercialize a drug and go all Scrooge McDuck on us. Nice gig if you can get it. To be fair, the consumer has the right to opt out. According to NBC News, Parkinson’s Disease is their first target, so despite this writer casting a little side-eye at the model, it’s still hard to root against them.
Last week Pfizer announced they’re shuttering their neuroscience discovery unit, which dedicates resources to the discovery and development of drugs for both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. While the practical and macro implications of the drug giant’s decision may be minimal—don’t forget, more than 99% of these drugs fail before they get to market—seeing a leader “give up” the search will take the wind out of some sails. Especially for patients and advocacy groups. Pfizer appears to be setting itself up for a “buy” rather than “build” strategy, as they are starting a “neuroscience venture fund,” presumably to snatch up products discovered by the many start-ups who will continue to dig for neuroscience gold.
A mistake in mice chow has led to a potential breakthrough in treating Parkinson’s Disease. Marcio Lazzarini was conducting experiments in mice in search of alternative treatments for Parkinson’s by administering 6-hydroxydopamine (6-OHDA)—a neurotoxin that causes dopaminergic neurons to die—when “only two of the 40 mice given 6-OHDA developed symptoms of Parkinsonism, while the rest remained healthy,” said Elaine Del-Bel, one of the study’s authors. Lazzarini realized the mice had been eating food containing doxycycline, a commonly prescribed antibiotic. The group repeated the experiment in a second group of mice delivering doxycycline via peritoneal injection with successful results. It turns out, the antibiotic reduces the toxicity of α-synuclein, a protein that can damage central nervous system cells and cause tremor, stiffness and slow involuntary movements.
What do Michael J. Fox, Billy Graham and Billy Connolly (funny dude, swears a lot) have in common? Well, two things. One, Parkinson’s Disease and two, they finally have a new treatment option. That’s right, the US FDA has approved the first new Parkinson’s treatment in over a decade. Europe gave the thumbs up in 2015, but the FDA has been dragging its feet since 2010. The reluctance to green light it had something to do with abuse liability and withdrawal effects. Apparently, these aren’t issues in 2017. Patients receiving Newron’s drug, Xadago, experienced more “on” time (less uncontrollable, involuntary movement) when taken with the current treatment. With expected annual sales of $450M and heavy US contribution, expect to see a US celebrity face put to it soon.
While many of us associate the shakes with too much caffeine, research has shown that higher caffeine consumption is associated with reduced motor disability from Parkinson’s disease and slowed progression of non-motor symptoms. While the cause of Parkinson’s is still unknown, studies of the brains of PD patients show the alpha-synuclein protein misfolds causing clumps called Lewy bodies which impair motor control. With this knowledge, scientists sought a way to stop the protein from misfolding. They created a “caffeine scaffold” to build eight compounds that they tested on a yeast model of Parkinson’s disease. Two caffeine-based compounds were found to bind to a-synuclein and stop the protein from forming clumps. Great news for coffee addicts and the pharmaceutical industry, which previously managed symptoms but couldn’t slow PD progression.