Personal genomics company 23andMe has secured a $1.4 million grant from the U.S. National Institutes of Health to further grow its database for pioneering genetic research.
Google-backed 23andMe recently secured a two-year, $1.4 million grant from the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Human Genome Research Institute to collect genetic data from more people to add to its already-large database.
The grant indicates that, at least for now, the U.S. government is willing to support initiatives such as 23andMe if the data is used for medical research, rather than solely for marketing personal genomics intended for the consumer market.
The company had received a stern warning letter from the FDA back in November 2013 for marketing its DNA home kit and personal genome service without clearance from regulators.
The FDA ordered 23andMe to halt the marketing of the product because of concerns that its health reports could provide inaccurate results about genetic predisposition to diseases such as cancer.
For now, the company is still marketing its $99 home kit with ancestry and raw genetic data information, but without the health-related genetic reports.
However, the FDA recently accepted a 510(k) health-report from the company, bringing it closer to marketing its products as originally designed once again.
While the NIH grant does not help the company directly in securing a potential FDA approval for their consumer health kit, it helps the company develop their genetic data for research purposes.
It signals that the company could be slowly winning back favor from the government because of its pioneering efforts in personal genomics research.
According to a press release, 23andMe will use the fresh funding from the NIH to:
- Create web-based surveys to identify unique genetic links
- Improve infrastructure of support tools that can collect larger phenotypic data sets
- Use whole-genome sequencing data and imputation to find rare genetic associations
- Allow external researchers to access the company’s database containing the data of 700,000 genotyped customers (and growing) in order to “further accelerate the pace of human genetic research.”
“23andMe is building a platform to connect researchers and consumers that will enable discoveries to happen faster,”
Anne Wojcicki, co-founder and chief executive of 23andMe, said in a statement.
“This grant from the NIH recognizes the ability of 23andMe to create a unique, web-based platform that engages consumers and enables researchers from around the world to make genetic discoveries.”
The company said it will be adding new features to its website, including the latest findings from peer-reviewed scientific journals, an updatable health profile where participants can log their health conditions, and interactive cognitive tests.
In whole-genome sequencing, it said that it will
“impute genotypes using data from large public and internal sequencing projects, thus providing increased power to detect many novel associations, including rare variants with large effects.”
23andMe will also collaborate with academic and commercial partners to develop its Research Accelerator program. Researchers from around the world can tap into the de-identified aggregate genetic data
“to see which single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) are associated with conditions of interest; to find conditions associated with variants in individual genes; and to view other aggregate data.”
The burgeoning genetic database that 23andMe is building has already proved useful in at least one massive project.
In a recent study published in the journal Nature Genetics, the company contributed data from 4,000 customers with Parkinson’s disease and 62,000 who did not have the condition, to help researchers identify six new specific gene locations on chromosomes that play a part in the development of Parkinson’s disease.
As 23andMe’s genetic database grows, then researchers can find the roots of many genetic disorders. That in itself is a win for medical research and patients.
If the company ever wins FDA approval for their retail DNA kit, then it could be another victory for personal genomics.