This story is from Who’s monetising your DNA?, an episode of Business Daily on BBC World Service. It was presented by Manuela Saragosa and produced by Laurence Knight. To listen to more episodes of Business Daily, please click here. Adapted by Philippa Fogarty.
If you’ve ever sent off your DNA to an ancestry or health-screening company for analysis, chances are your DNA data will be shared with third parties for medical research or even for solving crime, unless you’ve specifically asked the company not to do so.
The point was brought home in late January when it emerged that genetic genealogy company FamilyTreeDNA was working with the FBI to test DNA samples provided by law enforcement to help identify perpetrators of violent crime. Another DNA testing company, 23andMe, has signed a $300m deal with pharmaceuticals giant GSK to help it develop new drugs.
But are customers aware that third parties may have access to their DNA data for medical research? And do these kinds of tie-ups bring benefits – or should we be concerned?
23andMe is a California-based company that analyses customers’ DNA and provides them with reports on ancestry and health. It says it has more than five million customers, more than 80% of whom have agreed to participate in its research, creating a huge store of genetic data.
In a blog post when the deal with GSK was announced last year, CEO Anne Wojcicki said she believed combining 23andMe’s genetic research with GSK’s drug development expertise would accelerate the development of scientific breakthroughs.
So with this deal, has the company changed its focus to monetising its genetic database?