23andMe CEO Shushed at J.P. Morgan, Reveals Company is Hiring for Drug-Development Lab in Bay Area

23andMe CEO Shushed at J.P. Morgan, Reveals Company is Hiring for Drug-Development Lab in Bay Area
January 13, 2016
By Alex Keown, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff

SAN FRANCISCO -- In what may have been one of the most humorous moments of the J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference, Anne Wojcicki, chief executive officer of the Bay Area’s 23andMe, was shushed by a member of the crowd trying to listen to a presentation of 23andMe’s president, Andy Page.

Page presented to a packed house on Tuesday and Wojcicki was in the standing room only area at the rear of the conference room. According to a report from MedCityNews, it was difficult for people in the back of the room to hear Page and Wojcicki was chatting with those around her, prompting an unidentified woman to shush her so she could hear Page’s presentation.

Ron Leuty of the San Francisco Business Times said there was nothing “particularly shattering” about Page’s presentation, but noted the company announced it was “hiring for a drug-development wet lab in the Bay Area.” Leuty reported he was unable to find out more about the wet lab from Page, including the size of the lab and how many people will be hired. However, Leuty learned the new lab is “in line with 23andMe's strategy to turn the wealth of information it gets from its spit kits toward drug discovery.”

In October, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved 23andMe’s Personal Genome Service that provides carrier status, wellness, trait and ancestry reports to consumers. The test is available for $199 and will include more than 60 health, ancestry, wellness, and personal trait reports, as well as personalized insights based on analysis of 650,000 genetic variations according to a company statement.

The FDA’s approval of 23andMe’s new DNA testing is a turnaround from the trouble the company found itself in two years ago. In 2013, the FDA sent a warning letter to the California-based company, saying it must discontinue marketing its health-related genetic tests. The company was forced to stop selling the kits for medical or diagnostic uses, although they could continue to sell them without offering clinical diagnostics.

23andMe is now looking at expanding beyond the development of DNA testing and exploring the possibility of developing its own medications. In July, the company raised $79 million to partly fund that effort. Additionally, the funding will likely help the company continue with the development of its new therapeutics division. In March, 23andMe began to delve into the therapeutics market, to create a third pillar behind the company’s personal genetics tests and sales of genetic data to pharmaceutical companies.

To bolster its new therapeutics unit, the company has been making strides by nabbing senior pharma officials from big companies, such as Genentech . The company has a DNA data collection partnership with Genentech worth up to $50 million. To date, 23andMe has collected data from more than one million customers who submitted their DNA to the company’s databank by using the $99 DNA kits developed by the company.

Additionally, the company has a deal with Pfizer Inc. to enroll more than 10,000 patients with colitis or Crohn’s disease. In May, 23andMe inked another deal with Pfizer to launch the Lupus Research Study. The aim is to enroll 5,000 individuals with systemic lupus erythematosus to better understand the genetics of lupus. The effort is also in collaboration with the Lupus Research Institute.

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