More From SXSW #AskAnne


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We can’t tell you the breakout bands or best films from this year’s South By Southwest, but we can tell you that new ideas around digital health — including 23andMe’s use of big data to power research — drove a lot of the most interesting discussions on the interactive side of the festival.anne before interview copy

23andMe’s CEO and co-founder Anne Wojcicki delivered one of the more popular keynotes. While she tried to answer most of the questions directed to her through Twitter using the #AskAnne hashtag, she ran out of time quickly. So we went back through the more than 100 queries to answer the most frequently asked questions.

The biggest question, the one that’s been dominating our work over the last few months, asked by many on Twitter was summed up by Armin Molvai (@amolavi), who asked: “Can you share and update on what’s happening with the FDA?”

Back in November the FDA ordered 23andMe to stop returning health results to new customers, pending completion of a regulatory process, that requires submitting applications that detail the validity of the testing and science behind health results returned to customers. How long that process will take is hard to say, but Anne made clear that 23andMe is still deeply invested in seeing it through.

“My main priority is resolution with the FDA,” she told Venture Beat writer Christina Farr after her keynote. “We’re not going to switch gears and become an ancestry company, although that’s a huge market on its own. We need to return to delivering health information.”

Knowing how the FDA process has changed what 23andMe can offer new customers, Melissa Green (@mgreenvml) asked on Twitter how that will impact the company’s ongoing research.

Anne’s message on that was that not only is the company continuing to do research, but 23andMe is also tackling new areas of study.

“We have 650,000 people in our database and are being inundated with requests from academics and foreign partners,” she said. “We have more of this data than anyone else in the world.”

The mission of the company has always been about changing health care and empowering people with their genetic information. And 23andMe’s research is central to that mission, Anne said.

With 23andMe people can learn about themselves while helping to power important genetic research. Most of our customers consent to research. Collectively those customers have answered more than 170 million survey questions that in turn helps fuel research that now extends to more than 230 different studies looking at 1,000 different conditions that span everything from Parkinson’s disease to motion sickness. That’s the kind of research that could not be accomplished using traditional methods

While many at the conference could easily grasp the power 23andMe’s big data to speed research, some others were concerned about privacy around that data and, “how (23andMe is) protecting this database?”

Anne’s response was that research is done using data that is made anonymous, that the company adheres to strict security protocols. And our research is overseen by an independent “Institutional Review Board” that objectively looks out for the interests of those who consent to research. In the end, Anne pointed out that customers can opt out of research at any time, download their data and close their account.

“One of the reasons we went direct to consumer is so that you own the data,” she said. “And if you then want to share it that’s your right.”






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  • Free2BMe

    What do people do who purchased kits? Ordered, recieved but not returned prior to FDA intervention. S.O.L?

    • Scott23H

      Free2BMe,
      If you purchased before November 22, 2013 you will still be able to access health results.
      Just FYI the kit has to be sent in within a year of purchase or it will be invalidated. If you have additional questions please go to our FAQ page.

    • gfj68

      Google is your friend. Health info is EASILY accessible.I got my kit as an Xmas gift and got health info within minutes of receiving my results in January, AFTER the embargo. Genealogical stuff is FAR more interesting and I hope 23andMe amps up that part of their product.

  • Scott23H

    Thomas,
    What Anne was saying is that we are not abandoning our mission of empowering people with health information and become just a company that does ancestry.
    Ancestry has always been part of what we do and we’ll continue to do that. The ancestry side of the product is important for a number of reasons. On top of being both engaging and interesting it also has a bearing on many health conditions.
    We’re working on new offerings around our ancestry product so stay tuned.

  • Manuel Farill

    News in Mexico´s newspaper today is that National University of México has come up with a great discovery, stating that there´s a gene called SLC16A11 that makes Mexican nationals more susceptible to Diabetes. Sincé I´m a client of yours I would like to know if I have this gene and if so, what I can do to “control” it. Manuel

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