Earlier this week 23andMe, the Silicon Valley-based personal genomics company, was awarded its first patent: US Patent Number 8,187,811, entitled “Polymorphisms associated with Parkinson’s disease”.
23andMe co-founder Anne Wojcicki announced the issuance of the patent via a post on the company’s blog late Monday evening, attempting to strike a tenuous balance between her company’s oft-championed philosophical devotion to providing individuals with “unfettered access to their genomes” and its desire to commercialize the genomic information so many of those very same individuals have shared, free of charge, with 23andMe. With its new patent, 23andMe also injected itself into the middle of what Wojcicki herself described as the “hot debate” surrounding the patentability of “inventions related to genetics.” Wojcicki’s announcement appeared to catch more than a few of the company’s customers by surprise, sparking concern about the company’s intentions on 23andMe’s blog, Twitter and elsewhere, along with rapid and pointed commentaries from Stuart Hogarth and Madeleine Ball, among others.
Of the various questions asked of and about 23andMe and its new patent, these may be the three most common: Where did this patent come from, and why didn’t I hear about it before? What does 23andMe’s patent cover? How is 23andMe going to use its patent? Let’s take each question in turn.
Day one of the FDA’s two-day public meeting on the future of clinical DTC genetic testing is in the books. Those unable to attend in person were, unfortunately, forced to resort to Twitter coverage of the proceedings as the government declined to provide a live webcast. (I’m told there will not be a recorded webcast either. Perhaps the FDA is engaging in preventative cost-cutting.)
The first day was divided into three roughly equal parts: background presentations from the FDA and invited speakers, a second set of “public presentations” by companies and individuals who requested time to present their views and, finally, public deliberations by the Molecular and Clinical Genetics Panel (“MCGP”). Tomorrow will feature more public presentations, several more sessions of MCGP deliberations and, at the end of the meeting, recommendations from the MCGP to the FDA on the questions presented (pdf) by the FDA.
A Familiar Feeling to Day One. The first two sessions, which featured presentations to the MCGP, followed a fairly familiar script. Opponents of clinical DTC genetic testing worried that incorrect or misinterpreted tests could produce harmful outcomes, and questioned whether there was anything of value to be gained from the tests in the first place. Proponents argued that the DTC model empowered patients to explore their genetic selves without any ill effects. For those who attended or followed last summer’s two-day public meeting to discuss the FDA’s proposal to regulate laboratory developed tests (LDTs), much of the conversation echoed what was said on day two of that meeting during the direct-to-consumer (DTC) session.