The Silicon Review
Several years ago, a small number of companies began selling DNA testing kits directly to consumers via the Internet. This market was made possible, in part, by the decreasing costs of genome analysis. These “consumer genetics” companies offered a broad array of tests that report on a person’s ancestry and health, as well as a number of other traits. Examples range from a person’s ability to taste bitter flavors or the photic sneeze reflex (uncontrollable sneezing when exposed to bright light), to the risk for developing heart disease or diabetes, to how well they may respond to certain medications. Initially, consumer genetics companies did not produce a full genome sequence, like the Human Genome Project, but rather, looked only at sites in the genome that commonly differ between individuals, known as single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). However, with the ever-decreasing cost of genetic sequencing and analysis, as of 2016, a number of companies are beginning to offer full-genome sequencing services to consumers.
23andMe is one such leading consumer genetics and research company lead by Anne Wojcicki. From the beginning, Anne's goal and 23andMe’s mission has not wavered. Along with empowering consumers with health information, Anne wanted 23andMe to transform how research discoveries are made and revolutionize the development of treatments for disease. By inviting people to participate in research, 23andMe is able to crowd source billions of data points resulting in the world’s largest resource for genetic research. This novel, web-based approach has already resulted in thousands of new genetic insights and allows 23andMe to rapidly recruit participants to multiple studies at once, reducing the time and resources needed to make discoveries and is integral to 23andMe’s mission of understanding and benefiting from the human genome. This new approach to research also powers 23andMe’s therapeutics group, which is helping to translate this knowledge into new treatments for serious unmet medical needs. In line with this, 23andMe is now also using its unique model to speed recruitment for clinical trials.
Novel consumer genetics and research services offered by 23andMe
23andMe Therapeutics: The 23andMe cohort is the largest re-contactable research database of genotypic and phenotypic information in the world. At 23andMe, it believes that the research platform can help discover novel treatments for patients with serious unmet medical needs. The team is committed to discovering and developing novel therapies to improve patient lives through the study of human genetics. They currently have research programs across several therapeutic areas, including but not limited to oncology, respiratory, and cardiovascular diseases. In July 2018, 23andMe and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) signed an exclusive agreement to leverage genetic insights for the development of novel medicines. This multi-year collaboration is expected to identify novel drug targets, tackle new subsets of disease and enable rapid progression of clinical programs.
23andMe Research: The research Team utilizes a wide range of expertise to conduct innovative research at an unprecedented scale and level of complexity. Each of the groups below plays an essential role in supporting the mission of making new genetic discoveries possible. Made up of computational biologists, statistical geneticists, and bioinformaticians, this group is responsible for maintaining and improving core methods for making genetic discoveries. These methods are the basis for all scientific efforts across the company, from supporting new features in its product to identifying drug target candidates for its Therapeutics division. The company’s statistical expertise, combined with what is one of the largest genomic datasets in the world, has made 23andMe a leader in studying human traits and diseases.
Populations and Participant Advocacy: Respecting its research participants is 23andMe’s highest priority. It’s Research Ethics and Policy Team addresses a range of issues connected to its ground-breaking research program, including informed consent, recruitment, privacy, and data sharing and management. Over 80% of their customers provide consent to participate in research, and they evaluate new forms of research recruitment based on genetic and phenotype data, focusing on proper handling of potentially sensitive data and ensuring that research participation minimizes harm and maximizes potential benefits. They also enact policies around data handling and sharing that is designed to maximize the impact of its massive research database while ensuring the privacy of the research participants.
The driving force behind the glory of 23andME
Anne Wojcicki is the Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of 23andMe. Prior to founding 23andMe, Anne spent a decade on Wall Street investing in healthcare and felt frustrated by a system built around monetizing illness instead of incentivizing prevention. She wanted to flip that model on its head and build a business that helps people prevent illness rather than profit from it. Under her leadership, 23andMe now provides the only personal genetic test with FDA authorization to deliver health information directly to consumers. Ms. Anne is a pioneer in the direct-to-consumer DNA testing space and her vision and persistence have allowed 23andMe to provide people with unprecedented access to genetic information. Through its research platform, 23andMe has brought personalized medicine directly to millions of consumers. Ms. Anne graduated from Yale University with a BS in Biology.