If you paid $99 to send your saliva to personal genetics company 23andMe for ancestry analysis, well, turns out you did much more than discover what percent Neanderthal you are. You also provided one of the hundreds of thousands of sets of genetic data that made 23andMe's next business move possible. This week, Forbes reported that 23andMe plans to sell its customers' data to biotech and pharmaceutical companies.
In 23andMe's first deal — for a cool $10 million — the company will analyze data from 3,000 customers for the biotech company Genentech. The info will be used in the development of treatments for Parkinson's disease, a progressive nervous-system condition. Eventually, 23andMe may receive up to $50 million from Genentech for other projects, and this deal is only the first of 10 that 23andMe says are in the works.
It should come as no surprise that 23andMe had bigger plans for its customers' data all along. If you're wondering about privacy concerns, Forbes reports that about 600,000 of 23andMe's 800,000 clients to date have signed documents authorizing 23andMe to sell their data. In a press release announcing the deal, the company said that "de-identified individual-level data will only be shared from those individuals who provide explicit permission to 23andMe to do so." For the Genentech project, they'll apparently be reaching out to customers again for an added layer of permission.
And that, folks, is how a cute family-history project morphs into a game-changing genetic library — one that could potentially lead to life-saving cures and make some serious money.