Human DNA has now become a commodity, with 23andMe — the world’s largest database of genetic code — serving as the “new frontier” for pioneering drugmakers.
British pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline recently purchased a $300 million share in the genlogy company, which promises to tell you your ancestry in exchange for your DNA.
The “merger” of the two companies will accelerate the development of “novel treatments and cures,” GSK’s CEO wrote in a blog post.
23andMe customers’ genetic blueprints may now be used in studies that will enable GSK to get new drugs approved and to market faster, the pharmacuetical company boasted in a press release.
Current reports state that 80% of 23andMe customers opt to share their genetic data, along with a survey about their lifestyle and health status, for research purposes,
Over 5 million people so far have submitted a sample of their saliva to 23andMe in exchange for a chance to receive healthcare and ancestry insights.
The data transfer has given rise to privacy concerns.
“If people are concerned about their social security numbers being stolen, they should be concerned about their genetic information being misused,” says Peter Pitts, president of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest, a non-profit that aims to promote patient-centered health care.
“This information is never 100% safe. The risk is magnified when one organization shares it with a second organization. When information moves from one place to another, there’s always a chance for it to be intercepted by unintended third parties.”
As genetic profiling technologies evolve, 23andMe is serving as a translation service, turning living bodies into code that can be aggregated into big data.
This big data represents big profit for big pharma, who can use it to create experimental drug that can be marketed to consumers based on their genetic profiles.
The FDA warns this includes an inherent risk of diagnoses and perscriptions based on false positives or false negatives for certain genetic traits.
23andMe acknowledges the potential for security breaches on its website:
“Your genetic data, survey responses, and/or personally identifying
information may be stolen in the event of a security breach.
In the event of such a breach, if your data are associated with your identity,
they may be made public or released to insurance companies,
which could have a negative effect on your ability to obtain insurance coverage.”