It’s No Surprise That 23andMe Created a Drug From Customers’ Genetic Data
It’s the first and likely not the last to come out of the company
For over a decade, genetic testing company 23andMe has been amassing a trove of DNA data extracted from the spit its customers mail in to be analyzed. Now for the first time, the Silicon Valley firm has licensed a drug it developed using that genetic information.
Last week, 23andMe signed an agreement to allow the Spanish pharmaceutical company Almirall to further develop and commercialize the drug, which is designed to block certain small proteins associated with a variety of inflammatory diseases, including skin conditions and Crohn’s disease. The financial details of the deal were not disclosed. According to Bloomberg, 23andMe tested the drug in animals and is most interested in its potential to treat severe forms of psoriasis, a chronic skin condition linked to the immune system that affects more than 8 million Americans.
This news might come as a surprise to customers who consented to sharing their data for research at one point without knowing that it would be used for commercial purposes. But for the past several years, it’s been 23andMe’s strategy to mine its vast genetic database to find new medicines. 23andMe’s ambitions for drug development became clear in 2015 when it created a therapeutics division to use genetic data to identify new therapies for both common and rare diseases. “We are putting significant resources into translating genetic information into the discovery and development of new therapies for our customers and the world,” said 23andMe CEO and co-Founder Anne Wojcicki at the time.
At that point, it had 5 million customers. That customer base has more than doubled since 2015, with more than 10 million kits sold, according to the company. About 80% of those customers have consented to letting 23andMe and its collaborators use their personal data for research. The consent form is separate from 23andMe’s terms of service and covers any study the company conducts. In addition to sharing their genetic data, customers can also choose to answer online survey questions about their health, habits, and physical traits, though 23andMe says it strips the data of identifying information.