The strategic direction of 23andMe has always been of interest to me (see: Web-Based Genomic Testing Sites Fail to Attract Large Paying Audience, Clinical Labs Have Much to Learn from the Genetic Testing Web Sites). On one hand, the company is positioning itself as a personal genomics web site to avoid the regulatory pressure associated with rendering medical diagnoses. On the other hand, it has also been involved in projects of significant medical interest (see: 23andMe Builds Online Sarcoma Research Community). The question remains whether it can continue to straddle this fine line and evolve in both directions. A new acquisition may help to define the future direction for the company (see: Genetic testing company 23andMe acquires Curetogether). Below is an excerpt from a recent press release:
California-based genetic testing company 23andMe has acquired Curetogether in a deal it says will enhance its capacity for 'people-powered research'. Curetogether was launched in 2008, with an initial focus on helping people who live with chronic pain, while 23andMe, whose investors include Roche and Johnson & Johnson, offers a personal genome service and web-based research programmes....Both companies are built around online social communities and 23andMe said the deal would bring it additional tools and systems for gathering data from health-based communities. 23andMe’s customer communities include a disease-specific research communities for Parkinson's disease, sarcoma, myleoproliferative neoplasms and the Roots Into The Future research community for African-Americans. The company’s interest in Parkinson’s was extended last year to the realm of intellectual property when it was awarded its first patent for a variant in the SGK1 gene that may be protective against Parkinson’s disease. Meanwhile, CureTogether’s platform includes more than 4m phenotypic data points across those different health conditions that could help inform future genetic discoveries....Earlier this year Curetogether released the first results from its bipolar treatment study. This involved 227 patients who said the condition was best managed without drugs and reported the most effective interventions to be exercise, reducing alcohol intake and a better regimented sleep schedule. The most popular drug treatment in the three-year study was Roche’s Klonopin (clonazepam), while Lilly’s market-leading Zyprexa (olanzapine) languished outside the top three.
Hmmm! People-powered research? Some bench scientists may sneer at this idea but it makes sense to me. Here's how the Curetogether web site describes its mission: The smarter way to find the best treatments. Get access to millions of ratings comparing the real-world performance of treatments across 590 health conditions. Here is a cut-and-paste from the home page about recently posted news and reports:
What's new at CureTogether
- Bipolar Managed Best Without Drugs: 227 Patients Report
- 800 Patients with Arthritis Report Which Treatments Work Best
- Surprising things that work for Vulvar Vestibulitis, or make it worse
- Stanford Fibromyalgia Study on LDN Replicated at CureTogether
As I understand the mission of CureTogether, it's to harness the power of social media to gather and aggregate health and treatment data submitted by readers. I am sure that their results are not perfect and subject to the vagaries of such an approach. For example, the web site TripAdvisor has grown very wary of attempts to skew its hotel ratings by positive fake reviews (see: TripAdvisor responds to 'fake reviews' controversy with phone lines for aggrieved hotel owners). If and when pharmaceutical companies become aware of negative results about their products generated by on-line health communities such as CureTogether, they may pursue similar strategies. That's probably part of the reason that such companies have invested in 23andMe. These on-line social media sites are trying to fend off such attempts with computer algorithms to weed out fake "recommendations" on the basis of their artificial wording.