What is 23andMe?
Company Link

“Our goal is to connect you to the 23 paired volumes of your own genetic blueprint (plus your mitochondrial DNA), bringing you personal insight into ancestry, genealogy, and inherited traits. By connecting you to others, we can also help put your genome into the larger context of human commonality and diversity.”

It seems as though the company plans on indexing users’ DNA in order to pull up findings that would provide users with information on potential disease states as well as inherited traits.

Services
Customers will send their saliva or cheek swab for DNA sampling, which will be sent to Illumina for genotyping. According23andme1.jpg to Venturebeat, Illumina’s microbead-based scanning technology will give customers a rough approximation of what their genome may look like by dectecting DNA variations i.e. single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). The method is cheaper and faster than reading the entire genome. 23andMe will then put the information up on a password protected website where users may analyze their genome.

According to Portfolio, 23andMe is considering to incorporate a social networking element where users may link their personalized pages to those who share their DNA. Think of it as adding a friend in Facebook, but in this case you’re adding a Genetic Associate

dna1.gif

Figure 1: Single Nucleotide Polymorphism (SNP). Tiny changes in DNA sequence as illustrated above may have significant phenotypic effects including disease susceptibility and drug response

Revenue Strategy
23andMe has not specified an amount that they plan on charging but competitors are considering charging $2,000 and upward per user (Portfolio)

Investors
Total investment thus far: ~ $9 million

  • Series A investment of $3.9 million in May 2007 by Google co-founder Sergey Brin
  • Google
  • Genentech
  • Mohr Davidow Ventures
  • New Enterprise Associates

Founders

  • Anne Wojcicki: Wife of Sergey Brin, graduated from Yale with B.S. in Biology, 10-year background in biotech investing for a San Francisco hedge fund
  • Linda Avey: B.A. in Biology from Augusta College, 20 years sales and business development experience in biotechnology

Evaluation
23andMe is an interesting concept – the ability to map your genome and have your genes indexed. However, there are questions and issues that I have:

  • Would people be willing to send in their saliva or cheek swab to 23andMe?
  • Would 23andMe be liable for the emotional distress caused by the information revealed to the patient of his genome?
  • Security – who is responsible if the information is leaked to insurance companies?

Although much of the debate over gene testing has been over the potential abuse by insurance companies, employers, or the government, the potential emotional distress caused to the patient from the testing is just as important. Any sort of gene testing would track heredity conditions that may bring devastating news to the patient’s family. Patients need to decide how much they want to know and whether they want to tell their family. Who is responsible for the emotional distress? Will patients get to choose and pick how much they want to know about themselves?

Secondly, there is the issue of cost. If the cost of testing is going to be in the thousands of dollars, how will patients pay for this? Any patient with a history of cystic fibrosis or breast cancer would not feel comfortable having their insurance company pay for their genetic testing. What about healthy patients? Would they want to have insurance companies pay for their genetic testing and if so, would insurance companies hold the right to inspect the patient’s genetic information? And after the insurance companies find out about the patient’s genome, do they have the right to increase the patient’s insurance premium?

There’s a lot of ethical and moral questions that 23andMe will have to address. However, we can argue about morality and ethics all we want, but let us not shut the door to discovery.

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