23andMe’s aim: Getting customers drugs developed with their data – STAT

Posted: September 11, 2020 at 4:00 am

23andme has long been known as a consumer genetic testing unicorn. But CEO Anne Wojcicki describes it differently, as the peoples research company.

The California-based unicorn is now focused on a partnership with pharma giant GlaxoSmithKline to discover new drugs using data culled from millions of 23andMe customers, and Wojcicki said Wednesday at the STAT Health Tech Summit that she hoped the companys customers would feel proud if a drug developed with their data reaches the market.

Wojcicki, answering a question from moderator Matthew Herper of STAT, didnt outline any specific steps that the company would take to ensure that its customers could benefit from medications developed with their data. Nor did she detail how 23andMe would work with GSK on access issues.

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Any such decisions are years away, a 23andMe spokesperson later noted, which should give the company time to figure out a way to ensure its customers benefit. The first medicine being developed by the partners, an anti-cancer antibody, is only now starting clinical trials.

If you look at our mission, its about people having access to, understanding, and benefiting from the human genome, Wojcicki said. I think that they can do that with information as well with medications.

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I think theres a lot to do with the marketing and messaging and actually how [a drug] is sold that we will be able to address when were lucky enough to actually have that kind of program, she said.

The experimental cancer drug that entered clinical trials in July was actually one of the early programs under Richard Scheller, Wojcicki noted. Scheller, 23andMes former chief scientific officer who was considered an instrumental figure in the companys push into drug development, left in July 2019.

In 2018, the company signed an exclusive four-year deal with GSK, with the option to extend their work an extra year. The companies are working on about 30 drug programs together.

At the time the deal was announced, 23andMe faced some backlash for providing information distilled from its consumer clients to pharmaceutical companies. Both companies have argued that they are transparent about how consumers data is used; the press release announcing the deal noted that 23andMe customers would have to opt-in before their de-identified data was shared with GSK.

I think what you see is that for people who are really sick, they want to make a difference. They want to make a difference in their life or they want to make a difference in the lives of their children, Wojcicki said on Wednesday. People participate all the time in studies at Stanford or with Pfizer or with other groups. People want to see their information used for good.

As part of the collaboration, GSK invested $300 million in the genetic testing company; the companies agreed to evenly split the cost of the work done as part of the collaboration, which GSK hoped would improve the probability of R&D success, according to its 2018 annual report.

That focus on genetically validated targets can double the probability of success, said GSKs chief scientific officer Hal Barron, who joined Wojcicki on the summit panel. For the same investment, we could get twice as many molecules out.

GSKs $300 million investment was enough to buy 14.5% of 23andMe, which is still privately held; Wojcicki noted Wednesday that after 14 years, it is not a profitable company.

23andMes core business is selling genetic testing packages to people who are interested in learning more about their ancestry, their predisposition to certain genetic diseases, or their ability to metabolize certain drugs.

In 2017, the company received clearance from the Food and Drug Administration to market its tests as a way to detect a select group of hereditary conditions: Parkinsons disease, a type of Gaucher disease, several hereditary blood disorders, and alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency. Another FDA clearance followed in 2018 for pharmacogenetic tests, which look for genetic markers of drug metabolism.

Wojcicki said the company would be rolling out a number of [pharmacogenetics] reports to our customers in the near future.

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23andMe's aim: Getting customers drugs developed with their data - STAT

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