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Popular DNA Testing Company Signs $300 Million Deal With Big Pharmaceutical Company



It might be time for people to reconsider before they spit in a tube. Online genetic testing services are wildly popular. Many people use services such as 23andMe and Ancestry.com to learn about their ancestral pasts. Many also use these services to gain more profound insights into their biological makeup, which is often used to assess risk for degenerative diseases, such as cancer. This information offers use for more trivial insights, such as a person’s rate of metabolism in concern with substances like caffeine.

Pharmaceutical companies with access to such genetic information would be able to develop new products in more efficient ways.

GlaxoSmithKline, seeking to take advantage of just that, has announced a four year deal with 23andMe that allows them access to everyone’s genetic information for precisely the purposes pertaining to drug research.

In some ways, it was obtuse or naive to assume the online genetic testing frenzy was ever to end well.

Essentially, UK based GlaxoSmithKline, one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical ventures, just paid $300 million to sift through thousands upon thousands of genetic records of people who are primarily unaware or apathetic to the consequences of such activity.

Concerning privacy, it isn’t difficult to see the severe breach in consumer trust. GlaxoSmithKline nor the Mountain View, California based 23andMe signed into a massive scale deal without a clear interpretation that 23andMe’s user agreements and privacy policy were in order. But an advantageous positioned gained through confusing and often distracting user agreements shouldn’t take away from the unsavory conflict of interest happening here.

GlaxoSmithKline is using the 23andMe deal as a way to breath more life into its drug research programs; an initiative ran by its chief scientific officer and president, Hal Barron. Barron, as GSK’s good fortune would have it, is a former Genentech executive. In other words, Barron has an excellent understanding of the importance of DNA data to drug research.

The ability to access such high volumes of saliva data is likely worth much more than $300 million. The variety of genes, the uniqueness, and variance of individual profiles is something rarely achieved by request or payment for such things.

Worse more, 23andMe has become a blatant, unabashed wing of the pharmaceutical industry. The company has current deals with Pfizer and Lundbeck. Additionally, some believe that 23andMe may transition into the drug development sphere in a more independent undertaking. Like GSK, 23andMe also has a former Genentech executive, Richard Scheller, running a part of their operation. Scheller and Barron have a relationship that goes back before either worked for their current companies.

The process to obtain consent to share user data is fundamentally sound on the part of 23andMe. Nearly 80% of all users opt-in to share their genetic information with third-party entities. An opt-in 23andMe user is given a health quiz that likely accompanies their ancestral file when the data is shared, significantly adding value to the data.

But things get tricky when you don’t realize the full breadth of the data you’re sharing. The company will ask if you’d like the company to store or discard your saliva sample. Likely, storing the saliva samples are incentives to further, easier future upgrades or offerings. However, your saliva and your genetic data that 23andMe obtains from your saliva aren’t the same things according to 23andMe’s user agreement.

If you opt to discard your saliva, your genetic info remains stored for up to 10 years. Considering GlaxoSmithKiline signed a four-year deal, it is safe to say that a lot of sharing can be accomplished in a matter of years, rather than decades.

#gsk #glaxosmithkline #pharma #pharmaceutical

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