The DNA testing company 23andMe, has partnered with the pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) in order to develop new drug treatments. 23andMe, gives customers the ability to find out what their genetic makeup looks like. All you have to do is send in a saliva test and they will send you the results. I’ve always been a bit leery of this. Don’t get me wrong, I badly want to find out what my ancestry actually is. Sure, I’ve done the research in terms of my genealogy, but I don’t think that it’s always enough. Why did my great grandmother actually live with her cousins? I’m not saying that anything was a-miss, but there are unanswered questions in my ancestral line.
The reason I’ve been leery about 23andMe is not because of the results that I’m going to get. But because of the fact that you’re sending in your saliva to a company and then they’re doing what with it? They’re probably testing your DNA for things that you’re not even aware of. And now they’re teaming up with GSK in order to help with some medical breakthroughs. I’m not necessarily saying that this is bad, but I am saying that we should beware. Hopefully, users are aware of the data that they’ve shared, and how it can be used with GSK.
Do the ends justify the means? When I say that, I simply mean, if we can cure cancer, does it matter where the data came from? The cancer hating part of me says – no – use all that data that you need, if it means one more person won’t die from cancer. But the rule follower side of me says – wait a minute, you can’t just do that.
GSK has invested $300 million in the four-year deal, which will give them access to 23andMe’s huge bank of genetic data. Customers do have the option to opt out of this particular data sharing option at any time. But then I feel like, maybe you’d be perceived as a bad person if you don’t participate. Are you the one person whose data will help end cancer, but you’re too principled to get involved? It should like a large guilt trip to me.
The first project will explore possible treatments for Parkinson’s disease, based on a gene called LRRK2. A recent study showed that the gene may play a significant role in the disease, even among those without gene mutations — hence the value of such a large DNA sample. According to the partnership will give them the best chance for success.
As I said, I think that we should be careful about this. Again, I’m not saying don’t participate, but user privacy is a big thing these days. Asking people to participate in this study at will, is one thing, but then when you turn that upside down, you’re allowing two companies to potentially profit off of a service that you paid for to begin with. I hope that GSK does get the research that they need in order for us to see some medical breakthroughs. And when I say breakthroughs, I don’t want them to develop a drug to help treat cancer. I want them to find a way to eliminate or reduce it greatly.