When it comes to marketing, is DNA TMI?

Apparently not. GlaxoSmithKline announced this month a $300 million investment in the genomics and biotechnology company 23andMe, alongside a four-year deal allowing Glaxo access to its genetic database for drug development.

23andMe was the first company to offer genetic testing for ancestry in 2007 and now hosts DNA results for some 5 million customers. It is estimated that the number of people who have used some sort of DNA testing exceeds 12 million, including about 1 of every 25 Americans. This information may reveal an individual’s propensity to develop some diseases so it’s no wonder why mega pharmaceutical companies are interested.

The partnership between 23andMe and Glaxo is the largest collaboration to date between companies that host individual genetic information and others that wish to use it for development. Glaxo’s first project is slated to research novel Parkinson’s disease treatments based on mutations in the LRRK2 gene. About 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease each year and about 7-10 million worldwide.

In 2016, 23andMe partnered with Celmatix, a company that uses genetic information to study fertility—specifically how genes affect the likelihood of pregnancy. A result of this collaboration was an FDA-approved kit to test variants on genes linked to ovarian, breast, and prostate cancer, the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes in particular. Women with one of these gene variants have a 45-80 percent chance of developing breast cancer by age 70.

When submitting saliva samples, 23andMe customers are asked if they want their results to be used for scientific research. Over 80 percent of respondents have given their approval. Ancestry.com, the largest genealogy company in the world is also using its data for health research. Ancestry hosts 7 million DNA results and has linked arms with Calico (one of Google’s many facets) to research the genetics behind those with unusual life longevity.


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