Anne's background is in healthcare investing, focused primarily on biotechnology companies. Anne left the investing world with the hope that she could have a positive impact on research and medicine through 23andMe. From her vantage point, Anne saw a need for creating a way to generate more information - especially more personalized information - so that commercial and academic researchers could better understand and develop new drugs and diagnostics. By encouraging individuals to access and learn about their own genetic information, 23andMe will create a common, standardized resource that has the potential to accelerate drug discovery and bring personalized medicine to the public. Anne graduated from Yale University with a B.S. in biology.
Topic: Parkinsons and 23andMe
Anne Wojcicki: We launched the Parkinson’s initiative with Michael J. Fox and the Parkinson’s Institute out here. And we have individuals with Parkinson’s were given a discounted version of the 23andMe. We’ve designed the 23andMe site so that individuals can get access to their data, they can fill out surveys specifically about Parkinson’s as well as about their general health, and they get all the other access – so information about their ancestry, they can connect and share with individuals, there’s a community portion, they can learn from people. So, we want to have a really engaging experience for people so that we can keep getting information from them. We have one Parkinson’s survey now. We will plan to have additional Parkinson’s surveys because the long-term goal is, how do I get information about you today? So, let’s say I want to know how does your Parkinson’s progress in 12 months, in 24 months, in 48 months, because that information will be really valuable to correlate with your genetic information.
So then in comes 23andMe on the backend. Our researchers in-house are actually analyzing all of the data. All the information that we’re collecting through the surveys, they then compare to the genetic information and what we’re finding is we’re actually making really interesting discoveries on all the different questions that we’re asking about. We’ll hope to announce soon information about – because this Parkinson’s community came together, what are some of the discoveries that we have made? And what are those discoveries – what kinds of discoveries will benefit that community? So that might also integrate with a lot of the clinical trials that are happening where clinical trials are happening either on drugs where we can put in and help to figure out why some people respond, why some people don’t respond, where’s there’s toxicity, or there’s not toxicity. And a lot of the Parkinson’s patients are eager to participate in clinical trials. So we might be able to help make sure that they can find a clinical trial that makes sense for them.
Topic: The problem with clinical trials
Anne Wojcicki: I think the biggest problem in clinical trials is that they are underpowered. And that fundamentally the studies are just too small. And because they are so expensive, they are designed in such a way that there just is a small cushion. And so, they are expensive to run. If you need 1,000 patients to really get the power you are looking for, or maybe you have 1,100, but what we are finding that those are actually are still underpowered. So, the advantage of 23andMe, what we can do is we can actually have huge datasets where we’re not looking to collect a hundred people with cancer, or 1,000 people with multiple sclerosis. We want tens of thousands. The Parkinson’s initiative we’ve announced that we have over 3,000 people with Parkinson’s and on a relative basis, one of the largest cohorts out there now. We’re looking to develop the large cohorts and keep asking questions. I think one of the other advantages that we have is that we can ask these Parkinson’s patients about their Parkinson’s but we are also learning about all of these other aspects of them. So, we ask the general health survey and then we’re asking about commonly used drugs. Do they get a stomach ache when they take Advil. How do they respond to Benedryl? Things like that. So, it’s a cohort where we can keep learning more and more things from them.
Recorded on September 30, 2009