Following hard on the heels of its $60 million deal with Genentech, personal genetics startup 23andMe has announced an agreement to share its user data and research platform with pharmaceutical giant Pfizer. Although 23andMe is still languishing under FDA restrictions (the company is only permitted to offer ancestry reports and raw genetic data to customers — not medical analysis), its well-organized database of some 640,000 genotyped individuals is proving popular with the medical industry.
"The largest data set of its kind."
In a press statement announcing the deal, 23andMe spelled out the attractions of its genetic resources: "Researchers can now fully benefit from the largest dataset of its kind, running queries in minutes across more than 1,000 different diseases, conditions, and traits. With this information researchers can identify new associations between genes and diseases and traits more quickly than ever before." The two companies will also collaborate on "genome-wide association studies, surveys, and clinical trial recruitment" starting with a 5,000-person study into lupus.
The genetic information in 23andMe's database is anonymized and voluntary. Customers who bought 23andMe's $99 saliva test kits are given the option to share their data for this sort of research — although it's likely that some individuals will still be uneasy that their genetic information is going to multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical companies. Nevertheless, for 23andMe, this data is a crucial product, not just in terms of revenue (the value of this latest deal with Pfizer has not been disclosed) but in bolstering its reputation as a serious player in the world of medical research.