London, UK— Recently, GSK and 23andMe announced a four-year collaboration aimed at identifying new drug targets, better supporting specific subpopulations and accelerating clinical progress. Together, the companies will use human genetics as the foundation for discovering new treatments and potential cures for disease. According to the press release,

The collaboration will combine 23andMe’s large-scale genetic resources and advanced data science skills, with the scientific and medical knowledge and commercialization expertise of GSK.

Each company brings unique value to the table: GSK comes with three centuries of experience in pharmaceutical development and commercialization, along with the muscle of nearly 100,000 employees worldwide. 23andMe, on the other hand, was founded just over a decade ago, but brings more than a billion phenotype data points. Of its 5,000,000 customers, the company claims that 4 out of 5 opted-in to participate in research, so their data set is ripe with opportunity.

CEO and Co-Founder of 23andMe Anne Wojcicki stated “This collaboration will enable us to deliver on what many customers have been asking for — cures or treatments for diseases. By leveraging the genetic and phenotypic information provided by consenting 23andMe customers and combining it with GSK’s incredible expertise and resources in drug discovery, we believe we can more quickly make treating and curing diseases a reality.”

Ultimately, the partnership hopes to:

  • Advance precision medicine by improving target selection
  • Better identify patient subgroups who stand to gain the most from future therapies
  • Improve the identification and recruitment of patients for clinical trials

Why This Matters

As the age of the blockbuster medicine draws to a close, continued innovation in our industry will require what my colleague AJ Triano calls sideways thinking: opening your mind to different perspectives, new technologies and alternative ways of working. Tomorrow’s breakthroughs will come from partnerships and synergies across traditional businesses. This news adds to the cacophony of countless other partnerships that have made headlines over the past year, from Amazon/Berkshire Hathaway/JPMorgan to Apple’s pact with 13 healthcare systems

While this is promising for many patients and our industry as a whole, some real challenges are looming. Patient advocates have expressed concern in recent years over the de-identification of patient health information and its social impact, and the field of consumer genetics has seen its share of controversy over the ethical implications of its future. (If you’re reading this and haven’t seen the now-classic Ethan Hawke/Uma Thurman/Jude Law sci-fi Gattaca, stop reading this and start streaming that instead… You’re welcome.) Regardless, the GSK + 23andMe partnership is here, and we’re eager to see what unfolds over the next 4 years.

About the Author:

Drew Beck has spent his entire career in healthcare — from direct patient care as an EMT in college to countless roles in pharma sales and global marketing for leading life science companies including Eli Lilly & Co. and GlaxoSmithKline. He is currently a leader on the Syneos Health Insights & Innovation team, a group charged with leveraging deep expertise in virtual collaboration, behavioral science, trends-based-innovation, custom research and global marketing insights.