On September 12, Hoffman-La Roche, the U.S. prescription drug unit of the Roche Group, and deCODE genetics, the Iceland company using population genomics to create a new paradigm for healthcare, announced that deCODE scientists have mapped genes contributing to two of the biggest public health challenges in the developed world: obesity and clinical anxiety.
The companies plan to build on these discoveries to develop novel and effective drugs that could alleviate and possibly prevent the serious personal and societal toll exacted by these conditions.
Approximately 25 per cent of the total U.S. and European adult population is overweight, as are a rapidly increasing number of children. Inherited predisposition, unbalanced diet and insufficient exercise play important roles in this disorder. Obesity is a leading risk factor for a wide range of cardiovascular and other serious diseases. Obesity and related health conditions account for 10 per cent of US healthcare spending, however, little is known about the genetic aspects of obesity.
deCODE's researchers have succeeded in mapping a gene, whose variant forms contribute to obesity, to a narrow chromosomal region. This was accomplished by analysing genotypic data from more than 11,000 adult volunteers, representing a significant proportion of the population suffering from severe obesity.
Using the deCODE Clinical Genome Miner™, the researchers were able to correlate a wide range of clinical, behavioural, and genotypic data, and gained new insights into the heritability of different aspects of obesity, as well as into the complex interplay between obesity and diabetes, stroke, heart disease, and hyperlipidemia.
deCODE researchers have also located a gene variant that appears to protect obese individuals from type-2 diabetes, an otherwise feared complication. It may provide an exciting target for further gene and drug discovery.
Anxiety disorders are the most common forms of mental illness in industrialised countries. They also exhibit diverse and complex interactions between environmental and genetic factors and often accompany other mental illnesses such as depression.
Following a survey of more than 10,000 randomly-selected individuals conducted by collaborating physicians, some 500 respondents who had reported symptoms of anxiety agreed to be clinically examined and genotyped.
By focusing on extended families with at least one individual suffering from panic disorder, a serious anxiety disorder characterised by bouts of often immobilising fear, the deCODE team mapped a gene strongly linked to all forms of clinical anxiety. "DeCODE's success in localising disease-contributing genetic factors even in such complex disorders as anxiety and obesity marks once more achievements that we believe could not easily be obtained by anyone else," notes Jonathan Knowles, Head of Global Research at Roche .
"Our discoveries in obesity and anxiety demonstrate the power of our population approach and data-mining tools for discovering new knowledge about the genetic causes of even the most complex conditions," said Kari Stefansson, CEO of deCODE genetics. "Not only have we been able to map genes linked to these disorders, we have also gained new insight into the nature of many associated conditions, information that will be of great value as we and Roche progress towards the development of new and more focused therapeutics and diagnostics."