Kara Visits 23andMe
So I paid a visit a few weeks ago to the new offices of 23andMe, a start-up that has gotten a lot of attention for its unusual aim of joining together DNA research and social networking.
It’s an arena sure to be interesting, so here’s a video I made of my tour of 23andMe:
The service, which rolls out today with the launch of its Web site, bills itself as a “Personal Genome Service” and its motto is “Genetics Just Got Personal.”
And, indeed, the company–as well as several others (such as also Silicon Valley-based Navigenics)–hope a lot of people want to learn about their genes and what that information means, all in an attempt to carve out a lucrative new Web space by making DNA consumer-friendly.
The goal? For 23andMe, getting mainstream consumers to pay $999 for a personalized genomics assessment. For that price, a person spits out a largish saliva sample using an at-home kit, sends it in for intense analysis and then uses the site’s interactive tools to go to town with the scads of the DNA information.
That could mean everything from analyzing personal ancestry and genealogy to determining inherited traits to finding out way too much about proclivities for a range of scary diseases.
That presumably sets the stage for endlessly discussing all this genetic information within various personal and public social networks that might form. The font of all this juicy data comes from the 23 pairs of chromosomes that make up each individual’s genome.
Hence, the company’s unusual name.
Also noteworthy has been the funding around the company, especially a $3.9 million investment from Google. The company initially had an early investment from Google co-founder Sergey Brin, whose investment was replaced by Google’s.
The issue? He was recently married to 23andMe co-founder Anne Wojcicki (in addition, her sister Susan is a high-ranking executive at Google and provided Brin and other co-founder Larry Page with a garage space where the search company was first located).
This, of course, has attracted a lot of scrutiny to 23andMe’s founding–should Google have made the investment, even in an arms-length manner the company has said it used in determining its involvement, with someone so closely linked to Brin?–even though both Wojcicki and Linda Avey have much previous experience in the health-care and biotech sectors.
If the payoff is big, that issue will become moot. Other 23andMe investors are no slouches either, including Genentech and New Enterprise Associates. (Navigenics also has big backers in venture powerhouses Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Mohr Davidow Ventures and Sequoia Capital.)
Of course, there might be even bigger controversies for all these companies, ranging from: the potential confusion all this detailed health information might bring to consumers; the thorny issues around privacy and the possibility that insurance companies might want to grab this rich vein of genetic information as it becomes available; and even the chance that some current genetic analysis given might turn out to be completely wrong.
Please see this disclosure related to me and Google.