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23andMe to develop designer drugs

Controversial genetic testing company 23andMe announced this month that they intend to create drugs from spit samples. Whilst this sounds gross on the surface, the area of scientific research this focuses on has unbelievable potential in affecting the current state of modern medicine.

23andMe is a company that offers an analysis of your DNA in exchange for a drop of your spit (and £125). This DNA test offers an insight into potential inherited medical conditions, genetic traits, genetic risk factors and also your drug response (more on this in a moment). As The Badger recently reported, the test’s accuracy should be taken with a healthy pinch of salt, but has the potential to change how we are medically treated.

What is significant about 23andMe’s latest announcement is that they plan to now open a new research and development department. This department will focus on finding and developing drugs using the world’s largest database of human genetic material. The new head of this department, Richard Scheller, believes there is “the real possibility to do really, really great things for people with unmet medical needs”.

Between 2006 and 2013, 23andMe have announced that they have had more than 850,000 requests for DNA sequencing, and that 80% of those participants agreed to allow their genetic information to be used for research purposes.

The information from this database is to be used to search for any genetic clues which point to any new therapies. As an example, Scheller will be looking at whether patients who develop a certain disease tend to have specific hallmark genetic changes in their DNA. This could then serve as the basis for finding and developing new drugs.

Another research area that they hope to explore are the “extreme outliers”, patients with advanced cancers but who somehow survive, and also those who are affected much earlier with the disease.

The hope is also that because the drugs candidates will be more targeted, the cost of developing these drugs will decrease. An estimated figure thrown around by Scheller estimates that the average spending could decrease by about $1 to $2 billion less than what most pharmaceutical companies are currently spending to develop new drugs.

This all sounds very promising and will surely yield life changing results for many people, but there is no confirmed plan of action from the company. They hope to let the database teach them and then make the discoveries.

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