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Science News: Potential IPO raises concerns about the use of genetic data

– G.A., Senior Editor

Founded in 2006, 23andMe is a pioneer in direct-to-consumer genetic testing. By submitting a saliva sample, customers are able to determine their genetic ancestry, what traits they are predisposed to, and even whether they have inherited DNA from Neanderthal ancestors.

Oversight of the direct-to-consumer genetic testing marketplace by the USA’s Food and Drug Administration has meant that 23andMe and other companies have had to modify their services and how they advertise those services. However, interest in genetic testing services among the general public has only grown over time. 23andM recently announced a plan to launch an IPO in the second quarter of 2021 becoming a multi-billion dollar provider of what it calls “personalized healthcare”. A planned partnership with a company tied to Richard Branson, has the potential to result in Branson’s Virgin Group receiving access to DNA from millions of people.

Although the general public has become more accepting of genetic analysis and interested in the applicability of DNA testing to personalized healthcare, concerns have been raised about the wider commercialization of genetic data. The diverse business activities of the Virgin Group hint at the potential applications for genetic data that early 23andMe customers might never have dreamed of when they first submitted their saliva sample.

Since the FDA has maintained watch over the direct-to-consumer genetic testing marketplace, consumers can rest assured that there are some protections in place. However, given that this type of genetic testing has only been around for a few years, what the future holds for both consumers and the corporations who collect and use their data remains unclear.

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