‘Absolutely' a future where everyone's DNA sequenced at birth: 23andMe CEO

The number of Americans who self-identify as multiracial leapt a staggering 276% on last year's Census, as compared with the results 10 years prior — a trend that NPR reports could stem in part from the rise of at-home DNA testing.

Still, a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center two years ago found that just 16% of people had taken a mail-in DNA test from the likes of MyHeritage or 23andMe (ME), suggesting that the user base has room to grow.

In fact, 23andMe Co-founder CEO Anne Wojcicki told Yahoo Finance that she “absolutely” anticipates a future in which everyone receives DNA sequencing at the outset of their lives.

The widespread adoption of DNA testing will enable a new model of personalized healthcare that determines the treatment we get and the drugs we take based on our specific genetic code, said Wojcicki, whose company went public through a SPAC merger in June.

“If you ask any medical professional, everyone says there's absolutely a world where everyone is sequenced at birth,” she says.

“But the path to get from today to that moment in time is undefined,” she adds. “And frankly, that's one of the things that 23andMe is doing is we are actually the ones defining that path.”

A boom in at-home DNA test sales from 2015 to 2018 culminated with as many customers purchasing such tests in 2018 as did in all previous years, according to an analysis from the MIT Technology Review. But sales of the tests slumped over the ensuing years, causing layoffs at 23andMe in early 2020.

The company has since seen a recovery in the market as COVID-19 “reignited” consumer interest in healthcare, Wojcicki said.

More than 80% of 23andMe customers consent to the use of their DNA information for research, giving the company a vast database that has facilitated its entry into drug development.

This illustration picture shows a saliva collection kit for DNA testing displayed in Washington DC on December 19, 2018. RIC BARADAT/AFP via Getty Images

In 2018, 23andMe established a $300 million partnership with British pharma giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) for the discovery of drugs using DNA research.

23andMe sees the expansion into therapeutics as part of a broader shift toward healthcare that will consider the genetic makeup of each patient, Wojcicki says.

“There's a huge opportunity to say, 'I'm going to deliver true personalized care,'” she says. “'I'm going to help you understand what your risks are, and then potentially help you manage how to prevent.”

“Then there's this opportunity for us to all come together, and crowdsource: What does the human genome actually mean?” she adds.

Wojcicki, who has led 23dandMe since its founding in 2006, spent nearly a decade on Wall Street as a healthcare analyst. Her scientific background dates back at least as far as her college education at Yale University, where she earned a degree in biology.

Speaking to Yahoo Finance, Wojcicki said that as DNA becomes a more prominent part of the way people understand themselves, it can help them see past other differences.

“DNA is the ultimate connector of humanity,” she says. “We all have a common root.”

“I look at it, and I look at [how] each mutation tells a phenomenal story of our survival,” she adds. “We're all unique and different and optimized to survive in different types of environments.”

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