At GSK’s Q2 Results event, it was announced that they had partnered with 23andMe, a privately held personal genomics and biotechnology company based in the US.
23andMe sells home-based saliva sample kits which are used to produce a set of reports about an individual’s ancestry and health risks. This is possible by sequencing the individual’s genome and searching for genetic mutations within the DNA. Some mutations may increase an individual’s risk to health problems including certain forms of cancer, macular degeneration, lung and liver disease, dementia and more.
The DNA kits range in price from $99 to $199.
The company has partnered with GSK, a healthcare company headquartered in Brentford, West London. The company has three core divisions: Pharmaceuticals, Vaccines and Consumer Health. The company conducts research and development to create a variety of products that millions of people use on a daily basis. Some popular GSK brands include MaxiMuscle, Horlicks, Panadol and Beechams.
A fast-moving business
The race is on between rival pharmaceutical companies to move quickly when it comes to R&D. The quicker research is completed, drugs are developed and clinical trials are completed, the quicker that treatments can be launched and sold across the world.
GSK having access to a large catalogue of genetic information will help in informing drug discovery. The CEO of 23andMe, Anna Wojicki, thinks so too. In a blog post, she wrote:
“By working with GSK, we believe we will accelerate the development of breakthroughs”
GSK has invested $300 million on the partnership, a hefty investment with hopes of big returns. The first venture will explore possible treatments for Parkinson’s disease, based on a gene called LRRK2. The gene may play a significant role in the disease even without mutations, a recent study found. The value of a large DNA sample when it comes to researching this has profound value. The partnership “gives us the best chance for success” in tackling these kinds of health issues, Wojcicki wrote.
Customers of 23andMe have the ability to opt out of their data being used for drug discovery at any time. The company focuses on the importance of privacy on their website, stating that DNA is stored separately from information.
The value of DNA
However, some aren’t convinced. Your genetic information is arguably the most important piece of data about you. It’s more valuable than your shopping trends on Amazon, your Friends on Facebook or your Google searches. Some individuals in the medical field have voiced their concern.
Peter Pitts, President of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest, believes that customers of 23andMe should be compensated if their DNA is used in research, similar to a clinical trial. Speaking on NBC News, he said that people donating their genome sequences “for the higher good” is one thing, but said it was “upside-down” that “two for-profit companies enter into an agreement where the jewel in the crown is your gene sequence and you are actually paying for the privilege of participating.”
Nevertheless, GSK having access to this information may lead to the development of ground-breaking drugs and treatments. Although, the two companies will have to make sure that consumer’s genetic information is stored securely and isn’t used for any business outside of drug discovery.