The perfect birthday present

NicholasHallCo-AprilDreading the thought of traipsing up and down the high street failing to get an exciting birthday present for my sister, I was cheerfully reminded last week of personal genome test 23andMe, launched in the UK in December last year. While a breakdown of potential diseases waiting round the corner probably isn’t high on anyone’s Top 10 list of fun birthday things, the potential for better lifestyle management through this simple spit kit is quite extraordinary. Beyond being able to grade genetic traits ranging from smoking, taste perception and male pattern baldness – sis shouldn’t have to worry here – the test is also claimed to break down how your body is predisposed to react to drugs including PPIs, hepatitis C medications and a number of statins. So if healthcare professionals are willing to take on the information seriously, 23andMe could also help prevent thousands of cases of misdiagnosis and improve prescriptions. £125 a test sounds like a pretty fair price to me.

While I wait for her kit (and mine – 10% discount on multiple kits!), it is annoying, but unsurprising, to read a number of cynical online articles regarding privacy, following 23andMe’s second big deal with Pfizer in January 2015, which will focus on the genetics of lupus in 5,000 23andMe customers with the illness. All 5,000 individuals consented to the study and Pfizer will not be able to identify the anonymised patient data at individual level, a feature of 23andMe’s project made explicitly clear on the company website. All of which makes the genetics start-up a far cry from the cloak-and-dagger dealings of social media behemoths like Facebook.

Rather the cynics should look to the extraordinary potential for scientific innovation provided by such collaborations, as put by Pfizer’s Jose-Carlos Gutierrez-Ramos, Group Senior VP and Head of Bio-therapeutics R&D, “The expanding collaboration with 23andMe provides access to a wealth of data… The better we understand the genetic heterogeneity of complex diseases, the faster we may be able to accelerate the pace of development for potential new treatments for the right patient subpopulation.”

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