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23andMe Wants To Turn Your DNA Data Into Lucrative New Drugs

The biotechnology startup wants to use big data to change how we discover new drugs.

23andMe Wants To Turn Your DNA Data Into Lucrative New Drugs
[Photo: via StockMonkeys.com]

23andMe’s original business model may have been thwarted by the feds, but that isn’t stopping the company from trying new ways to generate revenue. Its latest idea could be a lucrative one: invent new drugs.

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23andMe is sitting on a mountain of genetic data culled from the more than 800,000 people who took its genetic tests before they were pulled from the market. The idea here is to mine that massive data set for as-yet-unseen insights, which could inform pharmaceutical research. The company intends to then use those insights to create entirely new drugs.

The move would be a huge shift for the company, which started out by offering $99 DNA testing kits that allowed consumers to take a closer look at their genetic profiles and better understand their overall health. That is, until November 2013, when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration sent a letter asking 23andMe to stop selling its saliva collection kits.

The company continues to navigate the regulatory nuances of securing FDA approval for its kits, but not without exploring new sources of revenue. And what better place to squeeze out some cash than from masses and masses of data?

That isn’t to say the plan doesn’t bring a host of concerns along with it. As Gizmodo points out:

There is a dark side to this, however: Big pharma is big, big money—this is not some altruistic organization, and it’s a business that will run on customers’ personal medical data. While 23andMe already asks for consent to sell customers’ aggregated data to third parties, this type of research will probably require deep research dives into specific DNA samples.

Still, if 23andMe can manage to elbow its way into this competitive space–and do so without alienating users–there is a mountain of cash to be made.

Pharmaceutical research is also an area that’s ripe for disruption, and 23andMe isn’t the only tech company eyeing that opportunity. Flexing the unique potential of its own computing resources, Google is now using large-scale . And the power of big data for medical research isn’t lost on Apple, which just announced its crowdsourced research framework ResearchKit on Monday.

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The thing about drug research, they say, is that the first pill costs millions and millions of dollars to make, while the second pill costs just a few pennies. These companies’ forays into drug research could turn into a major boondoggle—or we could find out exactly how much money those masses of data are worth.

[via Gizmodo]

About the author

John Paul Titlow is a writer at Fast Company focused on music and technology, among other things.

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