23andMe, best known for its array of do-it-yourself genetic test kits, has entered an agreement with Spanish biotech Almirall to develop its very first drug candidate.
The in-licensing deal gives Almirall rights to develop and commercialize 23andMe’s bispecific monoclonal antibody which targets three different forms of the inflammatory cytokine, interleukin-36 (IL-36). So far, the California-based company has assessed the drug in animal tests but is looking to Almirall’s experience in medical dermatology to see it through to clinical testing.
In a statement, Dr. Bhushan Hardas, chief scientific officer of Almirall said, “The partnership with 23andMe, a leader in genetics and biotechnology, gives us a unique opportunity to address the unmet medical needs in immuno-dermatology.”
This novel drug is intended to treat people with severe psoriasis, an autoimmune skin disease that affects up to 11.4 percent of the world’s population.
It could be challenging for a direct-to-consumer genetic testing company to break into the crowded psoriasis drug market currently occupied by AbbVie, Johnson & Johnson, Eli Lilly, Amgen and more. But 23andMe could have a leg up as one of the few companies focusing on their target, IL-36. The biotech may face direct competition with German drugmaker Boehringer Ingelheim, whose IL-36 blocker is being evaluated in a five-year clinical study.
With a wealth of genetic data at their fingertips, 23andMe is in a unique position to change the process of drug discovery and development. GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer both saw potential in what 23andMe had to offer, striking deals to advance medicines across a range of therapeutic areas. It was only a matter of time before the biotech started to leverage its own data for R&D.
“This is a seminal moment for 23andMe,” said Emily Drabant Conley, vice president of business development. “We’ve now gone from database to discovery to developing a drug.”
Crucial to 23andMe’s success is its partnership with Almirall. In-license deals are becoming increasingly common for pharma and biotech companies, as both parties share the financial and technological burden of drug development but also reap the rewards of a successful drug launch. Almirall also signed a deal with WuXi Biologics to discovery new bispecific antibodies using WuXi’s proprietary antibody platforms.
As pressure mounts on pharma companies to develop new drugs on a tight budget, the industry can expect to see new players like 23andMe enter the market with established partners by their side.