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From Ancestry to Health to Drug Development

Consumer genetics firm 23andMe is getting in on the drug development business with the help of former Genentech executive Richard Scheller, as GenomeWeb has reported

As BuzzFeed News points out, 23andMe has recently partnered with pharmaceutical companies and these deals allowing them access to its database. The Wall Street Journal notes that about 80 percent of 23andMe customers consent to the use of their data for research.

In light of these recent partnerships, Patti Zettler, a fellow at Stanford Law School's Center for Law and the Biosciences, tells BuzzFeed News that 23andMe's shift toward drug development isn't surprising.

However, Zettler adds that it may change how its consumer users think of the company.

"If 23andMe starts to be viewed more as a pharmaceutical company and less as an innovative Silicon Valley patient-empowerment company, that may change people's willingness to share their data," she notes.

23andMe's CEO and co-founder Anne Wojcicki says that the firm's customers have been receptive to its recent moves, BuzzFeed adds.

"I think that we can show customers that you're getting a whole experience for yourself in terms of health information, genetics, and ancestry," Wojcicki says. "And you're going to help contribute to the discovery of really novel therapeutics that can be cures. I think that's really a win-win." 

The new therapeutics group, which is to be led by Scheller, is to focus on metabolic and immune system disorders, eye disease, and cancer, the Journal notes. It is also going to examine so-called 'escapers' — people who have a deleterious mutation but show no disease symptoms.

Scheller tells GenomeWeb's Turna Ray that human genetics approach like the one his group is to employ "is likely to end up working on targets that are much more likely to succeed."

"So, it's the human genetics as the foundation for target discovery that gives me hope that we will be successful where others have failed," he adds.