Genome deals raise questions on privacy, sharing health data

Posted: January 15, 2015 at 1:40 am

(c) 2015, Bloomberg News.

BOSTON In three recent deals, drugmakers are betting that personal genetic maps will finally fulfill their early promise to unlock secrets and cure diseases.

At the same time, the agreements revived questions about privacy protections and how useful personal genetic data will prove to be.

Roche Holding committed $1 billion to take control of Foundation Medicine, which sequences genes of cancer patients, aiming to customize treatment. Roche's Genentech unit said it would pay as much as $60 million for access to 23andMe's data on customers with Parkinson's disease. And Pfizer reached a deal that will allow the drugmaker to analyze personal genetic information from 650,000 23andMe customers, without giving terms.

The pacts, together with 23andMe's announcement that it will enter into partnerships with eight other companies this year, boosted confidence in the commercial value of gene mapping. Since the first draft of a full human genome was deciphered in 2001, researchers have predicted breakthroughs in understanding the origins of disease, only to be frustrated as business developed slowly and regulatory issues cropped up.

Foundation Medicine and 23andMe were created to serve consumers directly and are not developing medicines. Foundation Medicine's clients pay to have more than 300 genes in their tumors sequenced, and then receive counseling about voluntarily entering trials of drugs that may address genetic abnormalities in their cancers. Customers of 23andMe, on the other hand, are encouraged to "learn about yourself" through genetics.

Now drugmakers are seeing research value in the genetic databases the companies have created.

"Core to our mission is making data available to other researchers to advance genetic discoveries, and we are committed to doing so in the most responsible way possible," said Angela Calman-Wonson, a spokeswoman for Mountain View, California-based 23andMe.

Roche's purchase of control of Foundation Medicine shows how integral genetic testing has become to cancer treatment, said Eric Topol, chief academic officer at Scripps Health, a health-care system in San Diego.

"This is the biggest commercial validation that sequencing in cancer is getting legs," he said in a telephone interview. "We're starting to see the beginning of the cancer sequencing story play out."

Originally posted here:
Genome deals raise questions on privacy, sharing health data

Comments are closed.