Google invests in biotech company, 23andme, to form genetic database

Updated

23andme.jpgIn one of the more eye-opening investment moves we’ve seen lately, Google has invested $3.9 million into a biotech company run by Google co-founder Sergey Brin’s new wife.

VentureBeat’s life sciences blogger, David Hamilton, who formerly covered biotech for the WSJ, has done some digging and has the full story (see here).

sergey-anne.jpgCalled 23andme, the Mountain View, Calif. company is run by Anne Wojcicki. It lets people take DNA tests to find out about themselves, and even how they may relate to others. It has raised around $10 million from New Enterprise Associates, Mohr Davidow Ventures and biotechnology giant Genentech.

He found some interesting blurbs:

By connecting you to others, we can also help put your genome into the larger context of human commonality and diversity,” the company says (our emphasis added).

Most notably, David writes of a blog post by entrepreneur Martin Varsavsky, who we’ve heard is well-informed about the project (Update: Indeed, we’ve since confirmed Varsavsky is an investor; he comments below):

Maverick tech entrepreneur Martin Varsavsky, for instance, wrote on his blog in January that 23andMe will take in saliva samples through the mail, then subject them to a fast and relatively inexpensive genetic analysis. That data, he suggested, would go into a database that people could search for both personal and scientific reasons — a vision that, if true, would also help explain Google’s involvement, given the company’s oft-stated desire to index all of human knowledge…

This shouldn’t be surprising. Google has long been fascinated with various far-out projects, from building a chip for the brain, to constructing an elevator that would go into space. It has had Genentech CEO Art Levinson on its board since it went public, so a sensible DNA search-related project like this makes relative sense.

Update: The Mercury News’ Elise Ackerman has a story on the perception of conflict of interest. Google says Brin recused himself from the acquisition discussions and that a separate committee made the decision, based on several criteria. She also talks to several corporate governance watchdogs.