Lundbeck’s Partnership with 23andMe: A New Direction in Depression Research

When it comes to developing new medicines to treat depression, we are at a turning point.

For more than 70 years, many companies, including Lundbeck, have dedicated countless hours and spent tens of billions of dollars identifying, testing, and promoting treatments for depression. While we have experienced many successes and helped millions of patients live healthier, more stable lives, today, we are still dogged by some stubborn limitations: Despite our efforts, survey data shows that more than half of people living with major depressive disorder (MDD) experience symptoms of depression every week, and more than half of physicians feel the need to change their patients’ depression medication on an annual basis. While many people have been helped, sadly, far more are still struggling.

Patients need more and better options, which means we need to ask more and better questions. At Lundbeck, we’re doing just that.

Lundbeck recently announced a new research collaboration with the personal genetics company 23andMe and the think tank Milken Institute that I believe will offer unprecedented insights into the true roots of depression: where it comes from, why it exists, how it progresses, and what it means for patients’ lives.  

Over the last decade, nothing has changed medicine as radically as our understanding of human genetics, and perhaps no company is more synonymous with this revolution than 23andMe. Through their personalized testing system, by simply spitting in a cup and sealing an envelope, tens of thousands of individuals have been able to receive their own unique genetic profile. In the process, 23andMe has developed an ability to amass and analyze human health data in a way that has never before existed.

Lundbeck brings a different expertise: We know the brain.

As the only global pharmaceutical company focused solely on psychiatric and neurological disorders, there is no organization that surpasses our knowledge of the central nervous system. This is who we are and what we do. And, over the nearly 70 years we’ve been at this work, we’ve never had the ability to capture insights into the underlying biology of depression across so large a population as we will through this new partnership with 23andMe.

Our collaboration centers on a 25,000 person study that will ask participants (all of whom have been prescribed medication for either MDD or bipolar depression) to simply offer a saliva sample, and then, once a month for nine months, do two things: take a survey describing the symptoms of their depression and an assessment that measures their cognitive function. By doing so, we can track how changes in symptoms impact changes in brain function (like memory, attention, or visualization), and correlate all of those findings against genetic dispositions. This is the first time these factors have ever been studied in tandem, and I am so pleased to join forces with 23andMe to break new ground.

We are at a turning point in depression research, because we recognize that there’s no silver bullet solution to this disease, and no one medicine is going to eradicate its existence. As a research company, that leaves us two options: We could barrel ahead and hope for the best, or we look outside our walls, find partners who make us stronger, and start asking new questions that we hope will speed forward treatment options for people living with depression. I’m glad we’re doing the latter.



Video: No Stone Unturned in Mental Health Research
By Doug Williamson, MD
In this video, Dr. Doug Williamson, Lundbeck's Chief Medical Officer and VP of US Medical, discusses putting patients at the center of drug R&D and how Lundbeck is leaving no stone unturned in pursuit of new treatment options.