“For Wojcicki, her success and the success of her company is about determination”
Founded in 2006, 23andMe, Inc. (23andMe) has become the world’s leading personal genetics company. The company offers saliva-based genetic testing service and provides genetic information to their customers.
Through their services, customers have access to their genetic information such as health traits, wellness, carrier status, genetic ancestry, etc. To date, 23andMe has more than 5,000,000 customers and published more than 90 peer-reviewed studies in scientific journals.
Prior to co-founding 23andMe, Anne Wojcicki worked as a healthcare analyst on Wall Street for over a decade. “In some ways, as an analyst on Wall Street, I couldn’t have asked for a better training because here I was at 22 and I had this opportunity to study every single healthcare company out there. I always felt like my 10 years on Wall Street was like getting a Ph.D. and then a postdoc,” said Wojcicki.
As she continued as a healthcare analyst, she began volunteering in hospitals at night. There, she witnessed numerous cases in which patients struggled to overcome their medical bills. After attending a conference on insurance reimbursement, she felt the initiative to change the healthcare system. “All these people were at this meeting just to figure out how to optimize billing. How can you bill more for every procedure? And I just realized, I’m done” said Wojcicki. “I felt like that was the end. I know how the system works. I’m going to try to make a difference.”
Since then, Wojcicki left Wall Street and co-founded 23andMe. Today, 23andMe has established the world’s largest DNA database. The journey was not easy. In 2013, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) sent a warning letter in which the company had to stop offering the test results to their clients related to their health assessments. After 2 years of waiting for approval, the FDA has reviewed the approach of their direct-to-consumer model and granted authorization for offering their full services. “There’s very few cases where there’s overnight success. We’ve been working on all of our approvals,” said Wojcicki, referring back to their FDA authorization. “And one thing I advise to entrepreneurs is you have to stick with it. Success comes from actually, like really sticking with it.”
Partnerships with Drug and Research Companies
23andMe has partnered with major pharmaceutical companies such as Lundbeck and Pfizer, with the goal of developing their own drugs. Their strategy is to use their own genetic data from 23andMe, gathered from consumer genetic tests, and develop their own therapies.
They are already taking actions to expand and execute their strategy. In 2015, 23andMe was granted authorization for its first genetics test for Bloom syndrome and in 2017, they received FDA approval for their 10 genetic health risk reports, which includes Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Celiac disease. Recently, 23andMe received the first-ever FDA authorization for their genetic test for cancer risk for its BRCA1/BRCA2 report.
At the J.P.Morgan Healthcare Conference held in San Francisco, Wojcicki announced a number of major genetic data partnerships including Genentech and Pfizer. She added that her company signed 14 partnerships in total, which includes both private companies and universities. Ultimately, 23andMe is looking to benefit from the partnerships and continue to develop drugs. “We’re a tiny biotech, but our goal is, rather than discover drugs based off of animal models, we’re going to discover drugs based off of data from human beings,” said Emily Drabant-Conley, vice president of business development at 23andMe.
Discovering drugs based off of human DNA rather than animal testing? Something to be excited for.