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Michael J Fox’s Parkinson’s Foundation Is Teaming Up With DNA Testing Firm 23andMe

April 29, 2019, 8:15 PM UTC

Michael J. Fox’s eponymous Parkinson’s foundation is teaming up with DNA testing firm 23andMe, the group tells Fortune.

The new project is dubbed the Fox Insight Data Exploration Network (or Fox DEN) and will serve as the analytics platform for a Parkinson’s study being funded by the actor-advocate-patient’s Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research (MJFF).

“Parkinson’s is an extremely variable disease that affects individual patients in unique ways. This complicates drug development and clinical trial design,” said MJFF chief executive Todd Sherer in a statement. “Fox DEN addresses this by bringing the patient experience at an unprecedented scale to researchers and amplifying the patient voice in the development of new therapies for Parkinson’s.”

Here’s how the initiative works: 23andMe customers can opt-in to the Fox Insight study, which includes data gleaned from patient surveys about the day-to-day lives of people living with the degenerative disorder (such as symptom onset, general health and diseases status, and other such metrics). The optional program then pools participants’ de-identified survey data with de-identified genetic data from 23andMe’s at-home DNA tests.

One major goal of the study is to give researchers and drug developers more insight into how Parkinson’s patients, who often have very different reactions to their disease, should be segmented for clinical purposes, and how their divergent experiences should inform medical advice, according to 23andMe. That could mean analyzing the interplay between environmental factors and genetics or other kinds of correlations that are difficult to assess without “real world” data.

This is the latest in a slew of clinical research partnerships 23andMe has struck with drug makers and academic institutes. British pharma giant GlaxoSmithKline took a $300 million stake in the company last year to spur medicine development, for instance. The Michael J. Fox Foundation, for its part, has deployed some $900 million to fuel Parkinson’s research since its inception in 2000.

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