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23andMe to open pharmaceuticals arm

16 March 2015

By Arit Udoh

Appeared in BioNews 794

US-based genetic testing company, 23andMe, has announced plans to use its customers' data for research and drug development.

The company has already collaborated with medical researchers and 14 pharmaceutical companies by licensing access to genetic information contained in its database (see BioNews 785). But now it plans to use its own database in the hope of identifying new drug targets for both common and rare diseases.

The move 'is a major step forward to realising our mission to help people benefit from the human genome,' said Anne Wojcicki, CEO and co-founder of 23andMe.

In response to potential ethical concerns that could arise from using customers' data in this way, Wojcicki insisted that its research consent policy will retain the right to opt-out. Currently, 80 percent of the company's 850,000 customers have consented for their data to be used in research, according to BBC News.

The announcement comes with the appointment of Richard Scheller, former Genentech vice president of research and early development, as chief scientific officer and who will lead a newly created therapeutic subdivision. Professor Scheller said that 'human genetics has a very important role to play in finding new treatments for disease'.

'I am excited about the potential for what may be possible through 23andMe's database. It is unlike any other', he said.

23andMe initially marketed and sold health-related genetic testing services directly to consumers. The service claimed to provide its customers with personalised information on their genetic predisposition to over 250 diseases via a 'spit test'.

But in 2013 the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ordered the company to stop marketing its Personal Genome Service due to concerns that it had not provided sufficient data to back up its marketing claims on health related information (reported in BioNews 733). It continues to provide ancestry-related genetic reports, however.

Working with the FDA, the company sought clearance for its health reports and last month it obtained approval to market a version of its genetic test service for Bloom's syndrome, a rare genetic disorder (reported in BioNews 791).

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