Tens of thousands of patients who bought self-testing kits from 23andMe have agreed to document their experience with the disease. The experiment is being carried out in aid to have further understanding why some patients suffer more sever symptoms than others.
The kits were initially bought with the purpose of finding out more about the person’s family history, or if they had a genetic propensity to conditions from baldness to diabetes, or even Alzheimer’s.
Over the years, 23andMe has accumulated a information of more than 10 million genetic profiles, and claims that 80 percent of its customers have agreed to the use of that data, once anonymised, for research.
Earlier this year 23andMe disclosed that it had sold the rights to an anti-inflammatory drug that it had developed using consumer data to the Spanish pharmaceutical firm Almirall.
The comprehensive questionnaire hopes will eventually have hundreds of thousands of entries.
DNA data from genetics tests to be used on symptoms research
The survey to assist the creation of a coronavirus treatment by identifying which genes may contribute to worsening its symptoms.
Adam Auton, 23andMe’s Principal Scientist leading efforts on its coronavirus research, said: “We need to develop therapeutics to help treat this disease,
“We are trying to contribute to the basic research that will move the scientific field forward… making it available to the scientific community at large – and that will include pharma, including our partners as well.”
Mr Auton claims the survey’s findings should be ready by the summer.
The results of the research will be freely available to access.
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Tens of thousands of patients who bought self-testing kits from 23andMe have agreed to document their experience with the disease
There is no guarantee that a clear genetic link will be found, but any clues may help in treatment probes.
“There really is tremendous value in being able to use genetic information to help understand why diseases take the courses that they do, and present opportunities to intervene and prevent people some getting very sick,” says Mr Auton.
The study asks 23andMe customers to fill in a questionnaire that includes questions like whether they’ve had flu or COVID-like symptoms? Have they had a test? Was that test positive?
If it was positive, how were they, and what were their symptoms? Did they seek medical attention, were they hospitalised?
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Those who complete the survey are also given the opportunity to describe the experiences of consenting relatives.
Mr Auton said: “By using this kind of survey type approach we hope we’re able to collect data from quite large numbers of individuals, which is really kind of the necessary requirement for these types of genetic studies.”
There is, he says, “a reasonably short list” of genetic suspects which the research will analyse to see if they influence the disease’s progress.
Generally, a part of the genome known as the human leukocyte antigen (HLA) system is considered relevant as it establishes how the immune system responds to infections.
Immune response is an important topic of research into coronavirus as an overactive reaction can complicate symptoms.
Over the years, 23andMe has accumulated a information of more than 10 million genetic profiles
Another area of research is the gene known as ACE2, which produces a protein believed to be a principal route into human cells for coronaviruses.
“That is something we will certainly be paying particular attention to,” says Mr Auton.
In 2015, 23andMe introduced a therapeutics divisions in a bid to capitalise on drug research through its genetic data and in 2018 signed a $ 300m deal with GSK to refine the UK pharma firm’s drug development targets.
Earlier this year GSK’s CEO Emma Walmsley said that the first such target selected using 23andMe would be recommended for clinical tests by the end of this year.
“Frankly, developing novel medicines and novel therapies is very, very difficult and requires huge numbers of people working for many many years on reasonably uncertain projects,” says Mr Auton.