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Now this is quite a development: 23andMe is the personal genomics company that had a run-in with the FDA and is still trying to come to terms with the agency over the reporting of their customers’ genetic information. They also have a new collaboration with Pfizer to apply their genomics database to drug discovery. The fine print in the customer agreement is that 23andMe plans to use the sequences from their customers for just such purposes, and it is a valuable database. They have 800,000 sequences, and the company says that over 80% of them have consented to have their data used for research.
But they’ve apparently decided to go straight on to drug discovery with all this genomics data, which is a big leap. They’ve hired Richard Scheller, a head of drug discovery at Genentech before his retirement, and that’s a serious hire indeed. The company says that he’s going to “help build a dedicated research and development team”, so we’ll see if they mean it.
Because if they do, they’re talking about building a drug company from scratch. Some of it, or large chunks of it, will probably be outsourced in one way or another, because this will involve a lot of people with expertise that 23andMe just doesn’t have. Or not yet. It’ll be quite interesting to watch how this develops, and how much the company wants to do itself versus contracting out (and not to mention what disease areas it feels it has an opportunity in). But I’m always glad to see someone else getting into this game, and I wish them luck.

16 comments on “23AndMe”

  1. Steve Usdin says:

    Derek, BioCentury Extra’s article answers some of your questions:
    ..The company plans to have about 15 staffers in the therapeutics group by year end, potentially doubling by next year. ..

  2. Wage-Slave says:

    ‘80% have consented to have their data used for research’ – did they understand that it could be a commercial research undertaking; or was it just like one of those little boxes on a form which if you fail to tick, you receive e-mails for the rest of your natural life (from anyone they can sell you address to)?
    A scary thought – in 5-10 years time they could be bombarded with ‘We notice your DNA makes you prone to disease XYZ, our new homeopathic snake oil will keep this at bay’ messages. Or perhaps I am just getting too old and cynical.

  3. Henry's cat says:

    Any new player in the industry is welcome, especially if they are offering jobs. In the link given above there is talk of ‘building a lab’ so there is hope. What next, the Food Babe starting a new venture to make ‘chemical-free’ pharmaceuticals?

  4. Anonymous says:

    Reading a couple news articles, there seems to be some confusion about whether they will be looking to discover new drug targets or looking to discover new drugs. The former is plausible with the data they have, but the latter is quite a stretch. In other words, I don’t think they will ever be hiring medicinal chemists.

  5. toxchick says:

    Interesting. Makes me think of deCODE genetics, though that was more upfront to participants about what their data would be used for. They also had access to genealogy and medical records too.

  6. edeast says:

    Wage-slave. I do get emails from them, like check out this new trait you have, that explains why you like sweet or salty.
    I suppose when they start drug trials, i’ll get emails, like we noticed you are prone to dementia would you like to take part in our drug discovery efforts.

  7. anon_drugus says:

    Well there are a few hundred ex Onyx R&D staffers looking for a new position. No reason why they couldn’t go full in on drug discovery (including chemists) – happens all the time out here with biotech start ups.

  8. Daen de Leon says:

    I was a bit sneery last year about their failure to engage with the FDA (“seriously, 23andMe — don’t snub your industry regulator: what did you think was going to happen?”)
    I am considerably cheered by this news — it’s not a jail sentence if you have to work with the FDA. It’s not even like the FDA have acted in an obstructive manner. I think they see 23andMe’s approach as delivering a lot of benefits to patients down the road.
    So this is great news: Scheller brings the regulatory experience (among other things) that 23andMe has obviously been lacking.

  9. The genetic sequencing 23andMe does is not the complete genome, correct? It just looks for specific SNPs.
    I guess the database has enough stuff relevant to drug R&D. Seems to me it would be somewhat limited.

  10. Eric says:

    They don’t have any proprietary technology or novel approaches to drug discovery. They do have a very big gene database. It seems that they might be good at identifying new targets, but they don’t have any real advantages when it comes to developing new drugs. Isn’t this much like what Millennium pharmaceuticals was pitching in the late 90s? I hope they are successful. The industry could certainly use help after the contraction we’ve seen in recent years.

  11. HFM says:

    They also have a big database of phenotypes (everything from medical history to personality traits) to correlate with the SNPs, as well as pedigrees to some extent.
    IMO they’ve been pretty up-front about this being the plan – I’m a customer myself. Will be interesting to see what comes out of it.

  12. anon says:

    Celera Genomics came up with a pretty good drug and pipeline that AbbieVie just bought for $21 billion. Maybe Pharma misjudged the utility of genomics?

  13. Anony-brain says:

    In CNS diseases there seems to be a large black box between genes and disease. IMHO, not sure how quickly a gene-disease Lync will surface that will have a positive impact in drug discovery – in my lifetime, anyways.
    I’m curious about other areas. I hear wonderful stories of gene studies enabling drug discovery in oncology. Anyone else?

  14. milkshake says:

    @12 Anon, Celera did not come up with any drug. What they did was produce a huge investor hype around fast sequencing, and with the money from their stock evaluation they purchased several companies. One of them was a small biotech called Aryx in SSF, that had already this drug candidate.
    Around the time I was in SSF, they already closed down their research site involved in the sequencing business and fired their people there. They were going to do the same to us the moment we had anything worth selling – and Pharmacyclics bough the Aryx projects wholesale. They got a good bargain…..

  15. pipeline says:

    The only good thing from 23andMe is a knowledge of your Y chromosome origin. In case if you uncertain.

  16. George Kaplan says:

    @2 & @6 Your comments made Moore v. Regents of U. of California, 793 P.2d 479 (Cal. 1990) spring to mind. In that case, which as far as I know is the latest word in Cal. on the issue, even in the context of less-than-perfect informed consent, the patient/customer has very limited property interest in their excised cells and tissues. In Moore, the tissues were used to isolate a clonal cell line, then sold to Sandoz for a tidy sum. The physician and an associate were paid consultants working with Sandoz for the current equivalent of nearly $600k over three years.
    The patient, Mr. Moore (and his estate), saw none of this profit. Had a marketable biopharm come from this research, it seems, based on the reasoning in Moore, that he and his family would have no claim under property law. In Moore, the Cal. statutory regime also limited his interest in his excised tissues as well.
    Fast forward to today and a well written informed consent document and prospective customers for companies that collect and analyze samples may have even less of an interest in what “happens” to their sample materials and the data derived from them.
    Fine print matters; uninformed customers will give up data that may be valuable in individually unforeseeable ways; A company that aggregates a large cache of data may create value independent of a single person’s data.
    Lot’s here … and the law isn’t settled either.
    NB there are other legal angles other than property law in play as well.

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