23andMe Goes from Database to Drug Development

DNA testing company 23andMe has sold the rights to a new drug that it has developed using its customers’ data

The deal for the drug, which is being investigated as a potential treatment for inflammatory diseases, is with Spanish pharmaceutical company Almirall.

“This is a seminal moment for 23andMe,” Emily Drabant Conley, 23AndMe’s vice-president of business development told Bloomberg. “We’ve now gone from database to discovery to developing a drug.”

The drug is likely to be the first of many the company licenses, says Tim Frayling, a molecular geneticist at the University of Exeter, UK. As 23andMe’s genetic database grows – it has doubled in the last couple of years – it will become more likely to yield medically useful information, he says.

23andMe has sold in excess of 10 million DNA testing kits. More than 80 per cent of their customers have agreed to their data being used by the company for research and by scientists trying to understand the causes of diseases and how best to treat them.

“In general, I think it’s really good that human genetic information is useful for drug discovery,” says Frayling. But he questions whether it is fair for the company to financially profit from genetic data that its customers volunteered for medical research.

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