For the uninitiated, 23andMe, which is named for the 23 pairs of chromosomes found in a human cell, offers health tests directly to consumers. For $199 and a sample of DNA, the company sends health reports covering
carrier status, ancestry, wellness, and traits.
The company was founded in 2006 by Linda Avey and Anne Wojcicki, and it has gone on to raise more than $200 million in funding from a slew of big-name investors including Google, Google Ventures, Yuri Milner, and Google cofounder Sergey Brin, who also happens to be Wojcicki’s former husband.
With more than one million customers, 23andMe already has access to a vast pool of genetic data, but through its new Genotyping Services for Research (GSR) platform, it’s hoping to boost this data pool further and open a potentially lucrative new revenue stream, with researchers paying per DNA sample.
Here’s how it works. Scientists looking to recruit participants for health studies will use the GSR platform to manage and track their projects. It also simplifies the recruitment process, as the 23andMe saliva kit is dispatched directly to participants who sign up through the platform. In short, scientists get access to the data, while 23andMe manages the logistics.
So far, so simple. But what’s in it for the subjects? That’s the interesting bit — they aren’t paid in cash or cookies. Instead, they’re lured with the promise of access to information about their own genetic makeup. In other words, they’ll be given the “23andMe experience,” something that normally costs $199.
In the pilot phase prior to today’s proper launch, researchers from Washington University in St. Louis, the University of Southern California, and the University of California, San Diego, among others, have been working with 23andMe on studies ranging from addictions and psychiatric disorders to smoking cessation.
“Partnering with 23andMe permits us to both accelerate the pace of our work and reduce infrastructure costs,” explained James MacKillop, director at the Peter Boris Centre for Addictions Research. “Furthermore, it allows us to give back to our study participants who are interested in their genetic ancestry and health risks. It’s a real ‘win-win’ for us.”
There is an additional benefit of using the GSR platform, according to Ruby Gadelrab, 23andMe’s vice president of commercial marketing, in that it opens up the field of genetics to more researchers. “[It] simplifies the genotyping process and allows any researcher with an IRB-approved study to incorporate genetics into their research, regardless of their own genetics expertise,” she said.