Bioethics News

23andMe branches into pharma

US-based genetic testing company 23andMe intends to use its customers’ data for ground-breaking drug research and development programs.

The company has in the past collaborated with medical researchers and pharmaceutical companies by licensing access to genetic information contained in its database. But last week it revealed it plans to set up its own pharmaceutical wing to identify new drug targets for both common and rare diseases.

Researchers believe mutations and other genetic information in the 23andMe database will reveal potential drug targets for a range of diseases. Healthy carriers of mutated genes may offer insights into why some people do not develop disease.

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 have dedicated my life to research aimed at fulfilling unmet needs for very sick people. I believe 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.”

In response to potential ethical concerns that could arise from using customers’ data in this way, 23andMe co-founder Anne Wojcicki insisted that its research consent policy will retain the right to opt-out. Around 80% of 23andMe’s 875,000 customers have agreed that it can use their health data for medical research.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.