DNA News and Updates: 23andMe and Glaxo-Smith-Kline Partnership

By Vanessa Wieland

23andMe DNA test kit

DNA News and Updates

Over the last week, an article published last July about 23andMe’s collaboration with GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) made the rounds again. I know I saw it several times in my social media feed, so some of you might be wondering if this is an update. There is nothing new happening. However, here is a summary of some things you should be aware of if you plan to test with 23andMe.

23andMe: The Initial Announcement

On 25 July 2018, 23andMe announced that they were partnering with GSK to further their company mission of understanding the human genome and “to accelerate [23andMe’s] ability to make those novel treatments and cures a reality.”

Those are noble ideals but what, exactly, does that mean when it comes to your DNA test? In plain English, your DNA results might be used in research by and with GSK.

The announcement was covered in several print media publications (like this article from Time) and online media (like this article from WIRED). Simply search for the topic on any of the genetic genealogy social media groups and you will find archived discussions from last summer (check out the Genetic Genealogy Tips & Techniques Facebook group).

New people are coming to the field daily, which means this information is new to many people. That may be why it’s making the rounds again now. Here is a summary of what happened:

  • The announcement on July 25th unveiled a four year and $5 million partnership between the genetics company and the pharmaceutical giant.
  • In the GSK press release, they stated that the partnership would allow GSK to use 23andMe’s database and drug discovery team to identify any new opportunities for medicine or clinical practices.
  • Research began immediately thanks to the large portfolio that 23andMe had developed through their therapeutic research programs developed through already tested participants.
  • The companies will share all proceeds from any medicines or treatments which come to fruition through their collaboration.

BUT, what about you and your data rights?

  • Customers have total control over whether they participate in the research. All consent documents and their explanations are found here.
  • If you choose to be a participant, your data will be made anonymous and encryption of the programs will occur to protect your identity and your information.
  • For complete transparency, all research and results will be published.
  • Keep in mind, you do have options about whether you want to participate. For one thing, when you test with 23andMe you are given a Biobanking Consent Document. (A biobank is a type of repository that stores samples of biological materials, usually from humans, for use in research). You can read detailed information about it here. This document informs you of your consent to have your saliva sample tested by 23andMe, or its contactors. It also states that they will abide by the TOS and Privacy Statements on the site. Consumers must be notified of any changes to the terms of service. Keep an eye out for those notifications and if they occur, read them carefully.

    Then, if you still want to close your account at 23andMe, you can. To do so, go to their customer-care page. Follow the directions to request an account closure. This will have your DNA disposed of and your account closed.

    Hopefully, you now have the information you need to make an informed decision. However, I encourage you to read the links and ask questions if you still need more details. Both GSK and 23andMe have FAQs and links to answer any lingering questions. For more about 23andMe’s privacy practice, read the 5 key ways they ensure your privacy.

    Learn more

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