23andMe receives cash boost

16 October 2015

Personal genomics company 23andMe has received a cash injection of $115 million from investors.

The investment by companies including Fidelity Management & Research Company, Casdin Capital and WuXi Healthcare Ventures, represents a turnaround in the fortunes of 23andMe. Just two years ago it was warned by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to cease sales of direct-to-consumer genetic risk testing. The latest investment brings the total raised by the company to $241 million. The investment values 23andMe at $1.1billion, according to a person close to the company.

23andMe President Andy Page said: “Our efforts to enable individuals to access, understand, and benefit from the human genome have achieved a level of scale that will enable us to further advance genetic research and drug discovery around the world…this round of funding will enable us to further our vision for long-term growth in our consumer and therapeutic business”.

In February, 23andMe took their first step back towards direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic testing in the US with regulatory approval granted for a single condition, Bloom syndrome, by the FDA. The FDA also decided that it was classifying all autosomal recessive carrier screening tests as class II, meaning such tests would not need agency approval before market entry. As part of this reclassification the agency stipulated that test results must be ‘conveyed in a way that consumers can understand and use’ and they must be provided with information about how to access a professional clinical molecular geneticist or similar expert for pre or post- test counselling. In December 2014, 23andMe launched in the UK their Health and Ancestry Test, a toned down version of that previously offered in the US.

The cash boost from the latest funding round will be used to accelerate work on a revamped product with health analysis for the US market, which the company hopes to launch by the end of the year.

The financing will also be used to develop the therapeutic arm of the business. It will be used for strategic infrastructure, such as new laboratory space for therapeutic research and a new next-generation sequencing laboratory.

23andMe are not alone in the consumer genetic testing market. Ancestry.com also sells a DNA kit for ancestry information and announced this month it is in talks with the FDA about expanding its service to include genetic carrier status reports and estimates of disease. 

But 23andMe has the asset of a vast database of consumer’s genetic makeup and characteristics such as symptoms that patients report in questionnaires. Earlier this year, it reached the milestone of its millionth customer.

Google Ventures partner Blake Byers said: “Leveraging this platform will allow 23andMe to change drug discovery from one mostly initiated by small biological models, to a discovery process initiated by data scientists working at scale”.

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