Startups

TC Disrupt: 23andMe, After A Series Of Setbacks, Announces New Endeavors & A Focus On Diversity

Anna Wojcicki, co-founder and CEO of 23andMe, a human genome research startup known for its $199 at-home spit-tube DNA test kit, shared the company’s progress and future developments at Techcrunch Disrupt today. The area is of increased interest due to the rise of innovation in the genetics space (including gene therapy, which Crunchbase News previously covered).

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But like many startups and drug companies looking to disrupt healthcare, 23andMe stagnated at the FDA checkpoint. In 2013, the FDA shut down its DNA test kits, warning the company of health consequences caused by false assessments. But the company has since rebounded with new product offerings.

Testing And Research

After four years of maneuvering their way through regulations, this April, 23andMe has finally gotten the FDA to approve testing for 10 diseases, including Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s.

Wojcicki also announced several other paths that 23andMe has been focusing on. The company is working with the FDA to get other classes of diseases approved, and it is looking into detecting other common diseases such as breast cancer. Furthermore, the drug research arm wants to innovate the process through which drugs are discovered and made, leveraging its database to develop therapeutics more efficiently.

The company has attracted over 2 million customers worldwide. However, that hasn’t exactly gone smoothly. On top of FDA approval woes, 23andMe spent some time under fire for its lack of genetic diversity. While the DNA test has worked well for people of European descent (which make up 75 percent of its customer base), the same could not be said for people of color. Addressing this issue at Disrupt, the CEO revealed on stage that they are working on bringing in more economic and ethnic diversity.

Despite the hurdles, Wojcicki is confident that her company will help more customers “get access to their health information directly,” and eventually transform healthcare into a more “consumer direct marketplace.” And it has a lot of money in the bank to do so.

23andMe just raised a $250 million Series F round led by Sequoia this September, and the CEO has already looked passed fundraising.

“23andMe is about how is there a consumer revolution in healthcare. We [hope to become] a voice for what consumers want, and what kind of research we want to do,” said Wojcicki.

Wojcicki describes herself as “a huge believer in the potential of the individual.” Unsurprisingly, 23andMe has aligned itself with this individualism, educating people about the meaning of their genetic information, and trusting that this awareness will help improve their lives.

iStockPhoto / xubingruo

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