NIH funding to help 23andMe expand gene database

Genetic testing company 23andMe has been awarded a $1.4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health, less than a year after the U.S. Drug and Food Administration ordered the company to stop its DNA tests.

The NIH grant will last for two years and will help 23andMe build survey tools and expand its gene database, according to an announcement.

In November 2013, the FDA said 23andMe should stop its health-related genetic tests because the results could mislead customers. The government agency said the startup--which uses consumer's saliva to provide information on gene mutations, health risks and drug responses--did not submit adequate data to support its claims and had continued to sell unapproved, unverified service for years, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

Because of the FDA ruling, while the company still provides ancestry-related genetic reports and uninterpreted raw genetic data, it no longer offers its "health-related genetic reports," according to an alert on its website.

With the funding from NIH, the company said it will use the genetic data it has collected for a range of research projects. It also plans on developing Internet surveys, enhancing survey tools to collect more data and providing researchers with de-identified data from its existing database. 

The grant "enables researchers from around the world to make genetic discoveries," Anne Wojcicki, chief executive officer of 23andMe, said in a statement.

And despite its run-in with the FDA, the company has not shied away from recent discussions with the government involving technology and patient control.

"For the first time, technology and healthcare are coming together and consumers want to be part of it," Wojcicki said at a recent panel held by the House Energy and Commerce Committee as part of its 21st Century Cures initiative.

Meanwhile, 23andMe also is working to get back in the FDA's good graces--it is trying to push through a single health report on Bloom syndrome through the approval process for medical devices, according to a recent article in MIT Technology Review.

To learn more:
- here's the announcement
- check out the Technology Review article