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The $99 DNA profile could change your life

23andMe can transform our attitudes to health, diet and mortality … but also entire industries, drugs driven by future needs, healthcare refocused on prevention, insurance premiums to reflecting new risks.

23andmeAnne Wojcicki wants to change the face of health care. 23andMe, her personal genetics testing company based in Mountain View, California and part funded by her ex-husband, Google’s co-founder Sergey Brin.

By simply taking and mailing a saliva example from your home, and receiving analysis and interpretation within a week, 23andMe enables people to learn about their inherited health traits and genetic links to certain diseases. With around $120m investment, 23andMe can now offer 244 reports on health and personal traits, as well as genealogy and ancestry information that people can share socially all for $99.

For a price equivalent to a new pair of running shoes, the self-testing package is now accessible to millions of consumers, curious to understand the secrets locked in their DNA, and what it might mean for them. Imagine how it can change people’s lifestyles – prompting new diets and fitness regimes – as well as transforming insurance policies and healthcare planning.

It also enables 23andMe to create the world’s largest private database of genetic information, to explore and distribute this rich knowledge bank (around 90% of patients are happy for their aggregated data to be used). The results can be used in research conducted by Wojcicki’s team, plus pharmaceutical and healthcare partners to drive innovation and focus investment.

Pharma companies believe that genetic data could be instrumental in creating better, more targeted treatments for diseases. Genentech is working with 23andMe to learn if genetic factors influence a person’s response to the cancer drug Avastin, whilst Amgen recently bought DeCode, a company that explores the link between genes and diseases, for $415 million.

As 23andMe builds its database of millions of DNA profiles, more accurate analysis and innovation is possible, and better targeted solutions emerge. Indeed there are similarities to how Google became a better search engine, improving usefulness to users, and attractiveness to partners, as volume grew.

At the time of launch, in 2006 the business didn’t seem like a gamechanger of the drug industry, let alone the patient experience. The process was expensive, $999 for much more limited analysis, and was dubbed as “spit parties” by the press as wealthy Silicon Valley types shared saliva with their cocktails. The price has fallen dramatically since, making it affordable to most people. At the same time this has rung alarm bells with regulators, an inevitable challenge if you want to break rules, and all part of the journey.

Pivot points for 23andMe in “changing the game” of genetic profiling were:

  • Think: Making a high-tech specialism relevant to everyday consumers
  • Resonate: Communicating propositions around wellness, and even ancestory
  • Design: Engaging pharma companies in using the collated data for depth research
  • Amplify: Reducing the price to $99 to make it more accessible and build community

Wojcicki recently told Fortune magazine “We’ve always had a vision to introduce a new type of healthcare model that is focused on prevention and consumer-driven research,” she says. “If you have lots of individuals thinking of prevention, who know information that could have a meaningful impact on their lives, it changes the model for drug research and health care.”


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