23andMe will soon be doing a lot more with the gene information it has been collecting — and turning your DNA data into dollar bills.
The home genetics company has teamed up with pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) to design new drugs that could treat diseases like Parkinson’s, among others. Given 23andMe’s substantial genetic database provided by its 5 million customers, the company hopes that a partnership with GSK could provide the necessary data to develop effective therapies.
“Since the inception of 23andMe, our mission has been to help people access, understand and benefit from the human genome,” Anne Wojcicki, the company’s CEO and co-founder, said in a statement. “Today, I am thrilled to announce that we are launching a collaboration with GlaxoSmithKline to accelerate our ability to make those novel treatments and cures a reality.”
This collaboration also involves DNA the company’s has collected from millions of people — and hundreds of millions of dollars. GSK made a $300 million investment in 23andMe as part of the partnership; the pharmaceutical giant will maintain exclusive rights to collaborate with 23andMe in order to develop drugs.
“By working with GSK, we believe we will accelerate the development of breakthroughs,” Wojcicki said. “Our genetic research — powered by millions of customers who have agreed to contribute — combined with GSK’s expertise in drug discovery and development, gives us the best chance for success.”
This collaboration marks the largest such effort to date in the home genetics testing space and hopes to leverage the bevy of data that companies like 23andMe and others have collected thanks to mail-in saliva tests. 23andMe is by far the most popular of these kits, which means it likely has the most to offer a pharmaceutical partner.
23andMe has said that they will ask customers whether they would like to participate in research before using their data, ensuring that adequate consent is attained in the process. “As always, if our customers do not want to participate in research, they can choose to opt out at any time,” Wojcicki wrote.
it was unclear whether the company would contact older customers about inclusion.
This isn’t the first time 23andMe has attempted to utilize its genetic data for scientific purposes. As Wojcicki noted, the research team at the company has published more than 100 scientific papers, and in 2015, the team launched 23andMe Therapeutics “to develop novel treatments and cures based on genetic insights from the consented 23andMe community.” Of course, with the help of GSK, these treatments and cures are likely to go much further.
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