Kara Swisher

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23andMe Co-Founder Linda Avey Leaves Personal Genetics Start-Up to Focus on Alzheimer's Research


BoomTown just got the following email from Anne Wojcicki, co-founder of 23andMe, the personal genetics start-up, about the departure of her co-founder, Linda Avey (pictured here). She will be starting a foundation related to Alzheimer’s disease.

The pair founded the high-profile company–whose Series A investors include Genentech (DNA), Google (GOOG) and New Enterprise Associates, as well as Wojcicki’s husband, Google co-founder Sergey Brin–in 2006.

It has collected almost $23 million in funding.

Avey noted in an email to staff, which is posted in its entirety below: “I also recognize that the company has reached a critical point in its growth where new leadership can take it to the successful heights we all think it can achieve.”

Wojcicki’s email reads, in part:

I wanted to let you know that Linda Avey will be leaving 23andMe to focus her energy on transforming Alzheimer’s research and treatment, leveraging the 23andMe platform. Linda and I have talked about doing research in Alzheimer’s since the inception of the company. Linda, whose father-in-law recently died from the disorder, will be leveraging 23andMe’s platform as she works to revolutionize the research, treatments and prevention for Alzheimer’s.

Linda will be greatly missed by me and my colleagues but we’re glad she will continue to be in a related field, and we are committed to continuing the work that she and I started three years ago.


And here is the email from Avey to the staff, as well as Wojcicki’s below it and then the official press release:

Dear all-

As I trust you all know, 23andMe is very special to me. I also recognize that the company has reached a critical point in its growth where new leadership can take it to the successful heights we all think it can achieve.

I’ve decided that I’d like to focus my efforts on an area that is personally significant and will continue to have a huge impact on our healthcare system–Alzheimer’s disease. Effective today, I’m leaving 23andMe and have begun making plans for the creation of a foundation dedicated to the study of this disorder. The foundation will leverage the research platform we’ve built at 23andMe–the goal is to drive the formation of the world’s largest community of individuals with a family history of Alzheimer’s, empower them with their genetic information and track their brain health using state-of-the-art tools. We’ve always planned to include Alzheimer’s in our 23andWe research mission…I’m just approaching it from a new angle.

Some of you might be aware that my father-in-law suffered from Alzheimer’s and passed away last year. For this reason, Randy and I are motivated to do what we can to improve the understanding of what leads to the debilitating symptoms and what might prevent them from starting in the first place. The ApoE4 association is barely understood but gives us a great starting point.

I’ll miss working with you but will be excited to hear about the progress I know you’ll be making!

All the best,


As Linda has told you, she will be leaving 23andMe to focus her energy on transforming Alzheimer’s research and treatment, leveraging the 23andMe platform. While I am quite sad to see her leave I am excited and hopeful as she takes on this mission. As Linda’s co-founder and partner over the last three years, it has been clear that revolutionizing research has been a primary passion. Our drive to change health care has always had roots in our personal lives and we have tried to structure 23andMe so that any individual or organization could actively participate in research. Linda and I have talked about doing research in Alzheimer’s since the inception of the company and the need for the Alzheimer’s community to have a strong leader. With Linda’s involvement, I believe that the APOE4 community could be the first asymptomatic community to successfully develop preventative treatments. I hope that going forward we’ll both be able to shake up and transform the health care space, making health care and treatments better for all.

Linda’s departure is also a sign of 23andMe’s maturation. When we started the company, the personal genetics industry did not exist; now it is a thriving and competitive landscape. Our company has grown and we continue to be an innovative industry leader. While our success has been exceptional, it is also clear we have a lot of work ahead. We have created a significant and empowering tool, but we must find new and better ways to promote the value of knowing your DNA. In the weeks ahead, we will outline a strategy for the company that we believe will make genetics a routine part of health care and will lead us to making significant research discoveries.

Linda has been instrumental in making 23andMe what it is today and we thank her for her passion and dedication to the company. We have many exciting opportunities before us, and I look forward to working with all of you to make 23andMe a spectacular success.


Linda Avey to Create Alzheimer’s Foundation

Mountain View, CA–September 4, 2009–Linda Avey, co-founder of 23andMe, an industry leader in personal genetics, announced today that she is leaving the company to start a new foundation focused on Alzheimer’s disease. Ms. Avey’s foundation will leverage the 23andMe research platform to search for causes and treatments for the disease, which afflicts more than 5.2 million people in the United States.

Ms. Avey and Anne Wojcicki founded 23andMe together in 2006. The company provides personalized genetic information through DNA analysis and allows individuals to interact with their private information through a variety of web-based tools.

“I could not be more proud of what we have accomplished in the three years since Anne and I created 23andMe, and I am excited to take the next step in applying my experiences to one of the great health challenges of our time,” said Ms. Avey, who has more than 20 years of experience in the biopharmaceutical industry. “There is a clear need for revolutionary research and concentrated effort to confront Alzheimer’s, and we need to start now in order to make meaningful progress. The resources are out there–my goal is to marshal them to find answers for families, like mine, who have lost family members to such a debilitating disease.”

Concurrent with Ms. Avey’s announcement, Ms. Wojcicki said that 23andMe expects to make its genetic data platform available to Ms. Avey’s foundation in order to advance its research.

“Linda has been a true partner with me over these last three years, an innovative leader for our company and our industry, and instrumental in making 23andMe what it is today,” said Wojcicki. “It is only fitting that she will be making full use of our work together and leveraging the 23andMe platform for a tremendous cause. We look forward to joining her as a partner in her efforts.”

Ms. Avey’s departure announced today takes effect immediately.

Here is a video, in two parts, of Avey and Wojcicki demoing some new features of 23andMe at the sixth D: All Things Digital conference in 2008.

In the first one, they introduce 23andMe, explain the main service and ask News Corp. (NWS) head Rupert Murdoch, Walt and me about our tolerance for milk and about our racing abilities. (Full disclosure: News Corp. is the owner of Dow Jones and this Web site.)

In the second one, Avey and Wojcicki survey Murdoch on his genetic traits and show me what genes my kids have in common (and discover that I am not hyperactive).

Here are the D6 demos:

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