In January, the biotech company Genentech reportedly committed $10 million for access to the DNA of 3,000 Parkinson's patients and their families. A week later, Pfizer made a similar deal for the genomes of 5,000 people with lupus. At least 11 more similar transactions are on the way--deals in which the private genomics company 23andMe stands to profit by commodifying its customers' biological identities.
Off the bat, that sounds pretty creepy: offering up genetic information to the highest bidder. It's sort of like what Google does with your whereabouts and searches. The thing is, selling or volunteering personal information may just transform medicine. A trove of data could give scientists the tools they need to develop gene-specific drug therapies for certain diseases. "We are hoping to ultimately develop Parkinson's medicines, for example, that actually modify the disease as opposed to just treating symptoms," Genentech's Nadine Pinell says. Analyzing patterns in DNA could also help scientists find the genetic markers that trigger diseases, making preventive care more individualized and effective.