Updated on July 28, 2018
23andMe has always planned to sell access to its customers’ DNA—a fact it has not exactly kept secret.
When the company’s DNA-testing service launched in 2007, Wired touted its quest to amass a “treasure trove of data ... to drive research forward” as a “key part of the 23andMe business plan.” Co-founders Anne Wojcicki and Linda Avey outright told the San Francisco Chronicle that selling kits was only the first step. “The long game here is not to make money selling kits, although the kits are essential to get the base level data,” a 23andMe board member said to Fast Company in 2013. “Once you have the data, [the company] does actually become the Google of personalized health care.”
So this week’s announcement that GlaxoSmithKline is investing $300 million in 23andMe and using the DNA company’s de-identified, aggregate customer data for drug research is very much in keeping with the long-term business plan. You don’t make that kind of money selling $99 spit kits.
23andMe customers can opt of out their data being used in research, but the vast majority of its 5 million customers have opted in.
The deal comes at a time as pharmaceutical companies are increasingly looking to DNA for new drug ideas. In 2015, 23andMe announced its first partnership with a pharmaceutical company—in which it would study Parkinson’s with Genentech. The deal was reportedly just the first of ten at the time, according to Forbes. 23andMe has also since published studies with scientists from Pfizer, Janssen, and GlaxoSmithKline.