23AndMe, the genetic-testing company, has made the decision to cut back on advanced gene sequencing and focus on their current business.
Currently, 23AndMe offers a “spit kit” for $199 that will show people what their ancestry is and what health risks they have based on a small amount of their genes. The company also offers a kit that only shows ancestry.
For several years, 23AndMe was getting ready to go further with their gene-testing by introducing next-generation sequencing to show people a comprehensive list of what diseases and conditions they have a chance of getting or carrying.
However, CEO and cofounder Ann Wojcicki has pulled the plug on 23AndMe’s next-generation sequencing. Wojcicki has stressed that this decision does not stem from financial issues, FDA regulations, or consumer demand. Rather, the problem with next-generation sequencing is that it is so complex and comprehensive, that it might not be of any use to consumers.
One example that Wojcicki has given, is that next-generation sequencing could reveal to someone that they have a five percent chance of getting breast cancer. Now that they have this information, should the person take action and seek medical help? Do they need to do anything at all?
Wojckicki worries that next-generation sequencing would not be very helpful to consumers. She also believes that this form of genetic-testing is also still very much in its earliest phases, and not much is known about it.
“Genetics is complicated,” Wojcicki said. “As a company, we are really focused on direct to consumer. Without a doubt we are a consumer product. We’re not going through a physician. There is no other company out there that is direct to consumer.”
23AndMe is also the only genetic-testing company that has FDA approval to provide genetic information directly to customers without a medical professional is an in-between. 23AndMe didn’t always have the FDA’s support though.
In 2013, the FDA investigated into 23AndMe’s practices after the company told customers about their health without going through a doctor. However, 23AndMe proved to the FDA that they were providing information in a safe and accurate manner. The company also restricted itself to only provide health information on a handful of rare medical conditions.
23AndMe will now focus on what it already does well, and will strive to become even better at offering its current genetic-tests.
This decision to stop researching next-generation sequencing is the complete opposite of what 23AndMe’s competition is doing, however. Similar gene-testing companies such as Helix, Color Genomics, and Veritas are all throwing their money into next-generation sequencing to offer highly comprehensive data to consumers.
Although Wojckicki is currently doubtful of next-generation’s sequencing usefulness to customers, back in 2012 her 23AndMe company was completely on board with the next step in genetic-testing.
In 2012, 23AndMe created a successful pilot project on gene sequencing and wrote a blog explaining how it works. After that, 23AndMe hired several next-generation sequencing professionals. However, these professionals and an entire Salt Lake City team have been let go by the company.