Gentleman aims to use 23andMe's R&D blank slate to tip in vivo-in silico testing balance

23andMe Vice President Robert Gentleman

Robert Gentleman has shared details of what he wants to achieve as 23andMe's VP of computational biology. And the ex-Genentech bioinformatics chief is looking to turn 23andMe's inexperience in drug discovery into a strength, notably by relying more on computational methods to generate data in early-stage tests.

Gentleman is at the vanguard of 23andMe's advance into drug discovery, a position that means he lacks the support network that was present at Genentech. The thinness of the drug research ranks at 23andMe carries some obvious downsides, but Gentleman told Bio-IT World he sees the ability to build an R&D operation from scratch as conferring some possible benefits. Without any legacy resources or established ways of working, Gentleman hopes 23andMe can pick practices purely on their merits. This approach could manifest in favoring in silico tests over traditional animal models.

"By not having that reliance [on in-house biologists], we may be able to better demonstrate how many things we can do computationally. Pharma--for good or bad--is sort of a big ship and it's hard for it to turn. Trying to get people to think hard about how much stuff can you learn simply through computational methods, versus how much do you have to do in animal models, I think, is a good question, because neither of them are perfect models for humans," Gentleman told Bio-IT World.

Gentleman wants 23andMe to "push a lot harder on the really great computational methods." The company's approach to testing is one of many topics up for discussion over the coming 6 months, a period in which Gentleman will build his team while considering how to do drug discovery at 23andMe.

- read the Bio-IT World interview

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