WASHINGTON, D.C., July 29 Home genetics startup
23andMe has secured a $1.4 million two-year grant from the
National Institutes of Health (NIH) to build survey tools and
expand its gene database.
With these funds from NIH, an agency of the United States
Department of Health and Human Services, the company intends to
use its stores of genetic data for various research projects.
External researchers will be able to access information on
thousands of diseases and traits for more than 400,000 people.
The grant "enables researchers from around the world to make
genetic discoveries," Anne Wojcicki, chief executive officer of
23andMe, said in a statement.
23andMe, which is backed by Google Inc, has not
always played well with the federal government. Late last year,
it hit a major regulatory snag when the U.S. Food and Drug
Administration expressed concerns about the "public health
consequences of inaccurate results" from 23andMe's $99 DNA test.
The agency took issue with 23andMe's claim that its service
could deliver insights about people's genetic predispositions
toward "254 diseases and conditions."
23andMe agreed to stop marketing and selling its test. But
it has continued to grow its genetic database by offering raw
health and ancestral information, such as a person's ethnic
heritage, in exchange for a DNA sample. The company said it has
grown to 700,000 customers since 2006.
This grant does not mark a new direction for 23andMe since
the FDA's crackdown, the startup's spokeswoman Catherine Afarian
said, as the company has used its data for research in the past.
However, as it awaits FDA approval, the company appears
increasingly focused on how it can use its existing data-set to
contribute to medical research, while maintaining patient
Earlier this week, 23andMe disclosed plans to contribute
data to a study on new genetic risks for Parkinson's disease
spearheaded by researchers at the National Institute on Aging.
23andMe was listed among more than 50 worldwide institutions in
contributing to the research.
With its fresh funding, 23andMe said it plans to develop
web-based surveys to explore new genetic associations, enhance
its survey tools to collect a broader data-set, utilize
whole-genome sequencing data, and provide researchers with
de-identified data from its existing genetic database.
(Reporting by Christina Farr; Editing by Diane Craft)