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23andMe CEO Anne Wojcicki’s vision for changing healthcare as a ‘full-fledged biotech’

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In the 17 years since its launch, 23andMe has cemented its foothold in the at-home genetic testing market. But along the way, the company has also realized its long-term vision of becoming a full-fledged biotech. It’s just that the rest of the industry hasn’t fully caught on, according to Anne Wojcicki, the company’s co-founder and CEO.

“I’ve talked to all kinds of people over the last year who stare at me [thinking] … you do research?” she said.

She assures them that yes, 23andMe does real novel drug research in real labs.

“We have real labs,” she said. “Scientists, pipettes. Doing functional genomics experiments. We have 100 people doing therapeutics research. We have gone entirely from genetic data, hypothesis, early research, to filing an IND and actually in human studies with a phase 2a program.”

In fact, 23andMe’s pipeline includes two clinical programs, both in immuno-oncology, and more in the discovery and preclinical phases in immuno-oncology, cardiovascular/metabolic, immunology and neurology.

But it shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who paid close attention when the company launched in 2006; or when it hired R&D veteran Richard Scheller as head of therapeutics and chief scientific officer in 2015; or when it got the official nod in 2017 to market the first FDA-authorized, direct-to-consumer tests to determine genetic predisposition to certain medical diseases or conditions; or just last month when the company extended a data licensing collaboration with GSK for drug target discovery and other research.

“The goal has always been: How are we empowering individuals and how are we changing the trajectory of healthcare?”

Anne Wojcicki

CEO, founder, 23andMe

“From day one, it was set up to be a database you could leverage for research,” Wojcicki said. Indeed, she said that the company’s data is not only useful in portfolio validation for its partners, but that the size and scale of its data “swamps” many other resources. Compare, for instance, the UK Biobank’s data on 550,000 people to 23andMe’s insights on more than 14 million. 

She also touts the “breadth of phenotyping,” since 23andMe asks its customers questions that go beyond the medical record, like, “Do you cry when you cut onions?”

Throughout the company’s evolution Wojcicki has been a rising force in Silicon Valley, and has been surrounded by them, too. One of her sisters, Susan Wojcicki, was the CEO of YouTube from 2014 until early 2023 and her ex-husband is Google co-founder Sergey Brin. She’s also one of the co-founders of the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences along with Brin; Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan; and investor and entrepreneur Yuri Milner.

And with the spotlight on them, 23andMe hasn’t been without controversy. From data privacy concerns to the possibility of discrimination based on genetic information, the company has been navigating a host of ethical concerns. It’s also currently embroiled in a breach of customer user data. Now, Connecticut Attorney General William Tong is asking the company for more details, including whether the breach specifically targeted people of Ashkenazi Jewish and Chinese heritage.

“The increased frequency of antisemitic and anti-Asian rhetoric and violence in recent years means that this may be a particularly dangerous time for such targeted information to be released to the public,” Tong wrote in an inquiry letter to the company.

Yet for all those hurdles, 23andMe hasn’t slowed its march deeper into its users’ health and lives. Recently, it launched its Health Action Plan tool, which provides health recommendations based on personal genetic reports, health history survey data and blood and biomarker data. 23andMe also sells the first and only direct-to-consumer, FDA-authorized pharmacogenetics reports that tell people their likelihood of developing side effects from specific drugs. It also launched a genetic report on a commonly prescribed statin in June.

And Wojcicki hopes that all the data they’ve collected will come “full circle” to help the very people who contributed their information to the drug discovery process.

“The No. 1 reward I can imagine is, at some point, we have a therapy that benefits our customers,” she said.

She also thinks that genomics could and should transform the country’s entire approach to healthcare

“I think everyone should have their genome on day one, and healthcare should be built around prevention,” she said.

In a sit-down interview with PharmaVoice, Wojcicki described the company’s ongoing transformation, its collaborations with pharma companies and surprises she’s encountered along the way.

This interview has been edited for brevity and style. 

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