23andMe sells rights to psoriasis drug developed using genetic testing data

23andMe just sold the rights to a drug it developed with genetic testing data from its customers.

For better or worse, at-home genetic testing kits are here to stay. Although many worry that consumers are putting their private genetic information at risk by sending it to companies like 23andMe and Ancestry, there is no shortage of people doing so. The former hosts the genetic data of more than 10 million people.

Unsurprisingly, that data isn’t just sitting around. Rather, companies like 23andMe use it to pioneer new drugs. They also sell it to third-party labs and drug manufacturers (anonymously) for research purposes. Now, the company has sold the rights to a new drug that it developed with consumer DNA data that may help treat psoriasis.

Smarter Drug Development

Services like 23andMe often use their massive DNA databases to work on projects other than providing people with at-home test kits. A great example of this is drug development. The company has been working on developing and researching new drugs for several years.

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Recently, it discovered a molecule that blocks signals from certain proteins involved in autoimmune diseases. The drug is aimed at treating psoriasis, a skin condition that causes red, scaly patches.

23andMe took the drug through animal testing internally. After the drug successfully passed that phase, the company opted to sell it to a third-party firm. Almirall, a Spanish drug manufacturer, will test the unnamed drug in human trials following its purchase.

The financial details of the transaction weren’t disclosed. Notably, this is the first time that 23andMe has licensed a drug to another company.

The deal will grant Almirall the right to develop and commercialize the drug for use globally. However, it will need to successfully complete many more tests before that can happen.

DNA Dollars

23andMe offers consumers a simple, easy way to get their genetic information tested. However, such services have drawn plenty of scrutiny over the years. From claims that they don’t secure genetic data to conspiracies that suggest they are secretly run by the government, at-home DNA test kit suppliers have fought an uphill battle.

Now, their persistence is paying off. In 2018, 23andMe granted exclusive access to its DNA database to GlaxoSmithKline. The Big Pharma company uses the anonymous genetic data of millions of testers who have given consent to create and test new drugs. The firm also purchased a $300 million stake in 23andMe.

Emily Drabant Conley, the company’s vice president of business development, said, “We had this hypothesis five years ago that we could leverage our genetic data set to develop better drugs, and now we’re seeing this come to fruition.”

Interestingly, participants who allow their DNA data to be used won’t benefit from it. Even if the data plays a role in the development of a highly successful drug, 23andMe customers won’t see any form of financial compensation. Typically during a drug trial, research participants receive compensation in some fashion. That raises the question of whether companies should be able to use consumers’ DNA to turn a profit—even if they agree to it.

Nonetheless, the development of a new drug is always a positive thing. Thanks to the work done by 23andMe, patients with psoriasis might have a new treatment option soon.


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