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Genetic Data Questions

The recent spate of deals involving genetic data has raised questions regarding both participant privacy and the usefulness of such genetic data, Bloomberg News writes.

In a $1 billion deal, Roche is obtaining a majority stake in Foundation Medicine, an oncology genomic testing firm, with the aim of developing personalized cancer treatments. Around the same time, Genentech and 23andMe announced a partnership to search for Parkinson's disease drug targets by drawing on 23andMe's customer base. And shortly after that, 23andMe said that it also had an agreement with Pfizer to collaborate on research projects, including one focused on lupus, and would give the Pfizer access to some customer data.

"[D]rugmakers," Bloomberg News says, "are seeing research value in the genetic databases the companies have created."

But privacy may be an issue as customer and patient data is shared among companies and researchers.

"There's always this tension between sharing data broadly and keeping that privacy and confidentiality structure as rigid as possible," Harvard Medical School's Robert Green tells Bloomberg.

Bloomberg adds that 23andMe customers can consent to or decline to allow their data to be used in research. Additionally, for the Parkinson's disease work with Genentech, 23andMe will be seeking new consent from customers.

But whether or not such studies will yield new drugs isn't clear. Bloomberg notes that Decode Genetics has collected genetic information on Icelanders' genetic variations and how they may influence what drugs may work in them, but no new drugs have been developed. Decode was bought by Amgen in 2012.

Though Bloomberg says that new tools and larger databases may help, "the strategy needs to be proven fruitful."