23andMe strikes $60M Genentech deal to continue pivot to database-driven R&D

23andMe CEO Anne Wojcicki

Genentech has given 23andMe a major boost. The big biotech has reportedly paid $10 million upfront and agreed to $50 million in milestones to access 23andMe's database for target discovery of new drugs for Parkinson's disease.

Mountain View, CA-based 23andMe said the deal is the first of 10 it has signed with large biopharma companies, suggesting the data it already has are sufficient to sustain it through its negotiations with FDA. 23andMe is still unable to provide genomic health reports in the U.S.--a stipulation that has hobbled its consumer business--but managed to attract Genentech nonetheless. Genentech signed the deal to access information on the 12,000 Parkinson's patients in 23andMe's database.

23andMe views the deal as a validation of its approach. "I think that this illustrates how pharma companies are interested in the fact that we have a massive amount of information. We can do things much faster and more efficiently than any other research means in the world," 23andMe CEO Anne Wojcicki told Forbes. Of the 800,000 people who have bought genetic testing kits from 23andMe, 600,000 have consented to donate their data to R&D.

The Genentech R&D project goes beyond the terms of 23andMe's consent forms though because it will look at data on an individual--but still anonymous--level. As such, Genentech will need to ask permission to enroll people in the study. 23andMe doesn't foresee this being a problem. The Parkinson's disease community is particularly engaged with R&D--8 people with a particular mutation volunteered for a deep-skin biopsy within 24 hours--and want to help discover new drugs.

"Obviously the goal for us for this collaboration is target discovery to find new medicines for patients in a disease-modifying sort of way," Alex Schuth, head of technology innovation and diagnostics business development at Genentech, said. Genentech thinks the data possessed by 23andMe--and particularly the inclusion of physical details--makes this possible. To go deeper still, Genentech will pay for whole genome sequencing of 3,000 people in 23andMe's database.

- read the Forbes article
- here's the release
- check out Time's coverage
- and MIT Technology Review's take