Announcing 23andMe’s First Patent

[Ed: A clarifying addendum has been added to the end of this post. - 6/01/12]

23andMe has a substantial research arm with more than 20 scientists dedicated to making meaningful discoveries that will improve the lives of all of us.  We’ve made a number of discoveries that we’ve published in peer reviewed journals and on our website.  As we make these discoveries, we have often debated: what is the best way to make sure that genetic breakthroughs translate into real-world benefits?  We want to make discoveries that will impact your life and the lives of everyone on the planet.  We do not want our discoveries to just be an academic pursuit — we want to meaningfully improve lives.

Our patent, “Polymorphisms Associated With Parkinson’s Disease” is expected to issue on Tuesday, May 29, 2012. This relates to our discovery of a variant in the SGK1 gene that may be protective against Parkinson’s disease in individuals who carry the rare risk-associated LRRK2 G2019S mutation.  Our patent is an important step in ensuring that we’ve done all we can towards successful translation of this discovery.  If the follow up work we are now doing with the Scripps Research Institute and the Michael J. Fox Foundation looks promising and moves towards drug development, the patent will be important for a biotech or pharmaceutical company to pursue drug development.

We believe patents should not be used to obstruct research or prevent individuals from knowing what’s in their genome. We believe that everyone has a right to know their genomes — their sequence of As, Ts, Cs, and Gs — and should be able to access them should they want to.  This has been our guiding principle since day one, and 23andMe has pioneered the ability for individuals to have unfettered access to their genomes.

We recognize that patents are complicated and can be controversial. Patents were created to protect innovation. Is discovering the function of a gene an innovation?  The question of whether innovations related to genetics can be patented is in hot debate as evidenced by recent rulings related to Prometheus and Myriad patents.

We want to emphasize that we are firm in our belief that individuals should have access to their own genetic data. We will continue to pursue patents that we believe will eventually benefit us all. The majority of our customers have opted to participate in research. Thanks to that community, we have been able to make an incredible number of novel discoveries. We want those discoveries to move from the realm of academic publishing to the world of impacting lives by preventing, treating or curing disease.

Addendum — June 1, 2012:

The patent announcement has generated a lot of discussion. In addition to reiterating our core beliefs I’d like to clarify a few points about our perspective:

23andMe will not prevent others from accessing their genetic data or its interpretation specific to our patents. Other entities can present information about the genetic associations covered in our patents without licensing fees. As has always been the case, 23andMe customers can freely apply their raw genetic data to other interpretation tools whenever they wish.

23andMe is a business with a mission to improve lives. We sell a service to our customers and we conduct research, on our own and with partners, that we believe will lead to better treatments, diagnostics, and prevention of disease. We aim for these discoveries to benefit everyone.

Patents give organizations researching and developing new drugs confidence that their significant investments will be commercially viable. Developing new drugs and treatments costs time and money. A lot of time and money. Often the only way a company will even think about pursuing a drug lead is if they have assurance that they can recoup their investment. Having patent protection over the entire line of discovery gives a company confidence to invest in this resource-intensive process.

Many of you, especially in the Parkinson’s community, saw this as a major milestone and the first step in potentially having a meaningful impact on the lives of Parkinson’s patients. Our ultimate goal is to make discoveries that will benefit everyone.