Over the past 12 years, Anne Wojcicki, co-founder and CEO of 23andMe, has turned her dream into a billion-dollar empire.
“We have over 5 million customers. People are empowered with their genetic information,” Wojcicki said. “Once you get this first taste of learning about yourself, it really changes how you think about your health overall, and your own sense of empowerment in your health.”
Wojcicki is venturing into new territory, offering customers a chance to give their DNA a second life through medical research.
“How is it that I can crowdsource all this information, and then I can, I can partner with academic researchers, I can partner with biotech companies, pharma companies to say how can we all, who have a common interest, come together, and say, 'I want a solution, and I want information?’”
More than four million customers have opted in and the results have helped break scientific ground on everything from migraines to cancer.
One of the most significant finds was a 2016 study that found the 15 genetic links associated with depression, thanks to a partnership with drug manufacturer Pfizer.
“I think about success for me, for the company, as the impact that we have on human life,” Wojcicki said.
And she's not done yet. Wojcicki is turning her attention to a topic that hits close to home.
“My ex-husband, Sergei, he has the genetic risk factor for Parkinson's,” she said.
Sergey Brin, the co-founder of Google and father to Anne's two children, found out he was a carrier of Parkinson’s disease after taking the 23andMe test.
Last summer, 23andMe announced a $300 million partnership with pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline to find a cure for the disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and causes stiffness and tremors.
The company's massive database may be making strides for science, yet it also poses some serious questions about privacy.
But Wojcicki says your participation doesn't have to be permanent.
“You can delete your account,” she said. “If you don't wanna participate anymore, withdraw. Totally.”
So far, roughly 80 percent of the company's more than 5 million customers have agreed to let their test results be used in research.
You can change your consent status on the settings tab of the 23andMe website, but it can take up to 30 days to process.