You had an exclusive partnership with GlaxoSmithKline for five years, from 2018 to 2023. How successful was it?
It was overwhelmingly productive. From there, fifty drug targets emerged, many more than we expected. They increased it again for one more year, the sixth year, although it is not exclusive now. We now have the ability to mine the data set ourselves, as well as partner with other groups. Both the 23andMe and GSK teams felt there was so much there that no group could exploit it all alone. It’s a real resource that we could apply to a number of different organizations for their own drug discovery.
Are there particular disease areas that really interest you?
We have limited our own discovery efforts to the immunology of inflammation and, in particular, asthma. We are also focused on our immuno-oncology programs, but that is more focused on (drug) development.
Speaking of which, it has one drug in a Phase 2 trial, an antibody for solid tumor cancers, and it just announced that it’s starting a Phase 1 trial for a second drug, known as natural killer cell activator, also for the cancer. Did you identify those drugs based on your genetic data?
We did it. It’s really exciting to see genetic data transformed into a hypothesis that is applied to a drug and to really see the impact on patients.
Do you think most 23andMe customers are aware that if they choose to participate in research, they are also choosing to have their data used by potential pharmaceutical partners?
It is not individual-level data, unless you have given explicit consent for the individual-level data. I think most people want to see improvements in their lives. 23andMe can only go so far. But then we will need to partner with others to really accelerate in several different disease areas.
At what point in the company’s history did you start thinking about drug development as a direction 23andMe could take?
Drug discovery was always very interesting to me. I love space. I think it’s incredibly interesting to be able to understand genetics and then apply it and help understand and elucidate biology. The original iterations were that we didn’t do as much ourselves, but rather partnered with other pharmaceutical companies.
It has been just over 20 years since the Human Genome Project was completed, but the integration of genetics and genomics into healthcare has not been fully realized. Why is that?
The biggest question surrounding genetics is cost. In the US health care system, since employers pay for most health care and the average time employees stay in a job is three years, then you have to look at: What is your three-year investment time horizon? out in that time period? So, I think it’s a lot about, you know, when is preventive care worth it? I think one of the things that is a bit of a sad truth for individuals is that what is necessarily best for the entire population is not necessarily best for you.