23andMe To License User Data for $20M

23andMe testing kit
23andMe testing kit | Image by Lets Design Studio/Shutterstock

A UK-based pharmaceutical company has paid $20 million to access the DNA data of 23andMe customers.

23andMe announced Monday that it had extended a non-exclusive licensing agreement with pharmaceutical company GSK plc that allows the UK-based drugmaker to utilize the company’s global DNA database for “novel drug target discovery and other research.”

Under the amended agreement, GSK will pay 23andMe approximately $20 million for a 12-month license that includes access to the genetic and phenotypic data of 23andMe participants as well as certain research services not provided in the core data release.

The pharmaceutical company will have access to anonymized DNA data from 23andMe participants who have agreed to share their information for use in scientific or medical research. About 80% of the genetic testing company’s clients have consented to information sharing.

“We’ve had an incredibly successful collaboration with GSK over the past five years, and we are excited to continue our work together,” said Anne Wojcicki, CEO and co-founder of 23andMe, in a news release.

Wojcicki emphasized how the continued collaboration between GSK and 23andMe could eventually lead to new genetic discoveries and novel insights for therapeutic development.

“With approximately 50 programs developed over the last five years, we are thrilled to work with GSK in discovering genetically validated targets,” Wojcicki said.

As part of the 1-year license, any new drug discovery programs initiated during that time will be solely owned and advanced by GSK. Although 23andMe will not retain any ownership under the agreement, the genetic testing company may be eligible for downstream royalties under certain uses.

As of 2023, both companies retain royalties for programs developed under the initial collaboration.

Therapeutic research will become much more powerful as the global DNA database grows, according to Adam Auton, vice president of human genetics at 23andMe.

Some of the methods he says have been used to increase the database’s power are “improvements to its imputation technology” and the utilization of “whole genome sequencing data,”

Auton went on to explain that 23andMe will continue focusing on deep phenotyping, artificial intelligence, machine learning, rare disease research, and more to help identify drug targets that can be used to develop new medicines.

The Dallas Express reached out to 23andMe for a statement about the license agreement and to find out whether the company had received any backlash for the collaboration with GSK but was redirected to the statement provided in the news release.

While GSK agreed to pay $20 million for customer data, hackers recently accessed some of that information for free.

At the start of October, hackers gained access to the customer profile information of millions of 23andMe users. Since then, 23andMe has engaged the assistance of third-party forensic experts and federal law enforcement officials to help investigate the security breach.

As a precautionary measure to protect customers’ privacy, 23andMe said in an October 20 blog post that it had temporarily disabled several features within the DNA Relatives tool.

If a customer’s data has been accessed without authorization, 23andMe says it will notify the user directly with more information. Updates about the security investigation will be shared on the company’s blog.

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