If you’re one of the more than 5 million people who has used home DNA testing kit 23andMe for ancestry reports and genetic history, your genetic data may be used to develop new drugs.
The home DNA testing service announced a 4-year deal with pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), giving the manufacturer exclusive rights to 23andMe’s data. GSK also announced it is investing $300 million to take a stake in 23andMe.
23andMe users are asked if they agree to participate in scientific research, an opt-in clause that will now extend into active drug research and development.
Customers can opt in or out at any time if they don’t wish to participate in the research, 23andMe CEO Anne Wojcicki said in a blog post. (Here’s how to do that.) Ideally, the partnership will accelerate the development of pharmaceutical breakthroughs and advance the company’s mission of improving healthcare, she said.
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“I started 23andMe with the belief that by getting people interested in learning about themselves and participating in research, we would all benefit,” wrote Wojcicki. “Today is an important milestone in how 23andMe will be able to impact the lives of those with disease and how we will be able to improve the future of healthcare.”
GSK’s official statement said the collaboration will focus on discovering more precision medicines based on genetic data, identifying patient subgroups that are likely to respond to targeted treatments, and more efficient recruiting of patients with specific diseases to participate in clinical studies. The announcement states that over 80 percent of 23andMe’s customer base has consented to participate in research.
GSK and 23andMe’s first research project, currently in pre-clinical development, will look at a gene called LRRK2 to potentially develop new drugs for treating Parkinson’s disease. 23andMe has also started some of its own
However, there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical, from private profits to data privacy.
In an interview with NBC News, Peter Pitts, president of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest, pointed out that this partnership involves two for-profit companies using data that 23andMe customers paid for. He said the companies should pay any 23andMe customers whose DNA is used in research, and also brought into question how the privacy of 23andMe customers’ testing data will be ensured.
“Are they going to offer rebates to people who