23andMe founder: Health industry incentivizes illness

The founder of controversial personal genomics company 23andMe admitted recently that when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration ordered her company to stop genetic testing last November, it "significantly slowed up" new customers.

An article in the Guardian quotes Anne Wojcicki, co-founder of 23andMe, speaking at the South by Southwest festival this week in Austin, Texas. Wojcicki maintains that genetics should be used for preventative medicine. Having worked on Wall Street, she thinks the healthcare industry incentivizes illness.

"Obesity is awesome from a Wall Street perspective," she said. "It's not just one disease--there are all sorts of related diseases to profit from."

Wojcicki says her company can revolutionize healthcare by "shifting the emphasis from diagnosis to prevention."

"[The FDA decision] has slowed up the number of people signing up," she said at SXSW. "But we have 650,000 people in our database and are being inundated with requests from academics and foreign partners. We have more of this data than anyone else in the world.

"We are pioneers," she added. "We've had a lot of ups and downs but we have lots of tenacity to push on through. It will take time money and effort to figure out the path forward." This involves submitting applications that will detail 23andMe as a medical device, she said.

23andMe allows patients to own their own data, and share it with doctors if they choose, instead of having an insurance company owning their data. This is why it's justifiable that 23andme charges for its service, Wojcicki said.

Wojcicki has raised more than $126 million in capital since launching 23andMe in 2006, according to a profile in the October 2013 issue of Fast Company. Her financial backers include Silicon Valley royalty, including her former husband--Google chief Sergey Brin--and Russian billionaire and tech investor Yuri Milner.

At the time the profile was published, most of the company's revenue came from its $99 DNA test, but eventually the company wants to use the data collected from those tests to become the "Google of personalized healthcare," board member Patrick Chung had told the magazine.

To learn more:
- read the article in the Guardian

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