Personal genetics testing company 23andMe is moving ahead with more than one groundbreaking aspect to its business.
Two weeks ago, the company announced that it had raised $115 million in late-stage funding, putting it at a $1.1-billion valuation.
Last week, the company re-launched the health component of its test, so now users will be able to submit their spit and learn about their family history, their traits (like eye color), wellness (like how well they metabolize caffeine), and whether or not they can pass on certain genetic diseases to their children.
The company is also taking steps towards developing drugs.
The company hired former Genentech (the US arm of pharma giant Roche) executive Richard Scheller in March to lead its drug development team along with Robert Gentleman, an expert in the science of collecting and analyzing genetic code. The research team will use 23andMe’s 1-million-person database, of which about 80% have consented to having their information used in this kind of development, to identify possible treatments for genetic diseases.
In addition to in-house research, the 23andMe database of consenting users are being used to create more specialized databases in collaboration with pharmaceutical companies. The Genentech partnership will target Parkinson’s disease, a progressive nervous system disorder that affects movement, while the partnership with Pfizer is focused on developing databases of genes of people with the chronic autoimmune disease lupus and another database for those with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
So far, the company has hired a drug development staff, started researching possible treatments to diseases (called drug targets), and plans to start testing them out in a lab setting later this year, 23andMe president Andy Page told Business Insider.
And things are moving a bit ahead of schedule, said Page.
“When we hired Richard [Scheller] and Robert [Gentleman] in April, the objective for drug targets was by the end of year and early 2016,” he said. “We’re in the process of finding a lab space for this quarter.”