Is 23 and Me for You?
23andMe, Inc., a publicly held personal genomics and biotechnology company based in Sunnyvale, California, was founded by Linda Avey, Paul Cusenza and Anne Wojcicki in 2006 to provide genetic testing and interpretation to individual consumers. The company is best known for providing a direct-to-consumer genetic testing service in which customers provide a saliva sample that is laboratory analyzed, using single nucleotide polymorphism genotyping, to generate reports relating to the customer’s ancestry and genetic predispositions to health-related topics. The company’s name comes from the fact that there are 23 pairs of chromosomes in a wildtype human cell.
In 2007, 23andMe became the first company to begin offering autosomal DNA testing for ancestry, now used by all other major companies. Also in 2007, Google invested $3.9 million in the company, along with Genentech, New Enterprise Associates, and Mohr Davidow Ventures. Wojcicki was married to Google co-founder Sergey Brin at the time. Cusenza left the company in 2007 and was appointed CEO of Nodal Exchange in 2008. 23and Me’s saliva-based direct-to-consumer genetic testing business was named “Invention of the Year” by Time magazine in 2008. Avey left the company in 2009 and co-founded Curious, Inc. in 2011.
In 2012, 23andMe raised $50 million in a Series D venture round, almost doubling its existing capital of $52.6 million. In 2015, 23andMe raised $115 million in a Series E offering, increasing its total capital to $241 million.
The company had a tenuous relationship with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) because of its genetic health tests, but as of October 2015, DNA tests ordered in the US include a revised health component, per FDA approval. 23andMe has been selling a product with both ancestry and health-related components in Canada since October 2014, and in the UK since December 2014.
In June 2017, 23andMe created a brand marketing advertisement featuring Gru from the movie Despicable Me. In 2018, the company further marketed its brand with advertisements narrated by Warren Buffett. In September 2017, the company was rumored to be raising another $200 million in venture funding with a valuation of $1.5 billion. As of that time (prior to the raise) the company had raised $230 million since its founding. Afterwards, it was reported that the company raised $250 million, at a valuation of $1.75 billion.
In 2018 23andMe announced a partnership with GlaxoSmithKline to allow the pharmaceutical company to use test results from 5 million customers to design new drugs. GlaxoSmithKline invested $300 million in the company.
In January 2020, 23andMe announced it would lay off about 100 of its employees. In July 2020, 23andMe and GlaxoSmithKline announced their partnership’s first clinical trial: a joint asset being co-developed by the two companies for cancer treatment. In December 2020, the company raised about $82.5 million in a series F round, bringing the total raised to more than $850M.
In February 2021, 23andMe announced that it had entered into a definitive agreement to merge with Sir Richard Branson’s special-purpose acquisition company, VG Acquisition Corp, in a $3.5 billion transaction. In June 2021, the company completed the merger with VG Acquisition Corp. The combined company was renamed to 23andMe Holding Co. and began trading on the Nasdaq stock exchange on June 17, 2021, under the ticker symbol “ME”.
How does it work? The test can be done from home with no blood and no needles, just a small saliva sample. Consumers can choose from the Health + Ancestry or Ancestry + Traits services. The saliva collection kit is the same for both services and typically arrives within 3 to 5 days. Express shipping is available. The user follows the kit instructions to spit in the tube provided — all from home, registers the saliva collection tube using the barcode and mails it back to the lab in the pre-paid package. In about 3 or 4 weeks 23andMe sends an e-mail to let the customer know that the reports are ready in his or her online account. The customers then logs in to discover what his or her DNA reveals.