Thursday, April 17, 2014

23andMe is Alive and Well in the Media This Spring

In a well known story, the Yahoo-backed direct-to-consumer genetics company 23andMe was on a roll last fall - capped with the appearance of its CEO, Anne Wojcicki on the cover of Fast Company magazine.  Almost simultaneously, the FDA announced that the company would need to stop offering its product to consumers, on the basis that it was not an approved medical test, and that some of its information (for example, very partial results on the BRCA gene) could have greater harms than benefits.

(See the New York Times story, where Duke professor Misha Angrist said at least some of the FDA's claims were "borderline absurd."  While in contrast, a Forbes columnist called 23andMe's tactics "the dumbest regulatory strategy" he'd ever heard of.)

The company wrote on its blog on November 25, "We have received the warning letter from the Food and Drug Administration. We recognize that we have not met the FDA’s expectations regarding timeline and communication regarding our submission..."  By December 5, the company stopped releasing any healthcare-related information in its customer reports, although the 23andMe genetic profile is still available as raw information, with ancestry information, for $99.

What's new in April 2014?

In the last month, all sorts of news about 23andMe has been popping up, although not directly on the FDA issue. (The company is still working on that, but it's behind the scenes.)  What we do know is that 23andMe has been on a hiring roll.  For example:
Yes, you can find video clips of Anne Wojcicki speaking this spring at SXSW Austin, but there's a lot more.  23andMe is noted early in a piece in MIT Technology Review with the title:  "Law and Ethics Can't Keep Pace with Technology."  (Take that, FDA...)   On a similar note, the Bay Area's Oxbridge Biotech Roundtable featured an April 7 panel (see here or here)on the future of DTC genetic testing.

BioIT World just featured 23andMe in a major late March story, "23andMe Pursues Health Research in the Shadow of the FDA."  (Take that, FDA...)   This detailed report focuses on an interview with Joyce Tung, who is 23andMe's Director of Research.  Leveraging 23andMe data, Tung was senior author on a 2013 paper in the prestigious journal Nature Genetics on allergy loci.

With the new hires -- and we can assume this talent pool is not stupid -- it will be exciting to see what happens at 23andMe over the next year.

(For another celebrity hire as Chief Medical Officer in a genomics company, former NCI head Richard Klausner MD was snapped up by Illumina).