It's never been a secret that the consumer DNA labs like 23andMe have always intended to sell their anonymized data to other parties such as pharmaceutical companies (see: Helix Makes DNA Sequencing Available to Consumers;Where Do We Go From Here?,23andMe Customers: Suckers or Empowered Consumers?).This has always been the rationale for offering DNA testing to consumers at very low prices. After a few years, the details of such deals are beginning to emerge. A recent article spelled out some of them (see: Big Pharma Would Like Your DNA). Below is an excerpt from it:
...[T]his week’s announcement that GlaxoSmithKline is investing $300 million in 23andMe and using the DNA company’s de-identified, aggregate customer data for drug research is very much in keeping with the long-term business plan. You don’t make that kind of money selling $99 spit kits. 23andMe customers can opt of out their data being used in research, but the vast majority of its 5 million customers have opted in. The deal comes at a time as pharmaceutical companies are increasingly looking to DNA for new drug ideas. In 2015, 23andMe announced its first partnership with a pharmaceutical company—in which it would study Parkinson’s with Genentech.... Elsewhere in the world, the Icelandic biopharmaceutical company deCODE has sequenced over half of Iceland’s adult population to identify genes associated with diseases. deCODE was acquired by Amgen and then the Chinese pharmaceutical company WuXi in 2015. A consortium of six big drug companies—AbbVie, Alnylam, AstraZeneca, Biogen, Pfizer, and Regeneron—are paying to sequence all the genes from 500,000 participants in the U.K. Biobank, in exchange for exclusive access to the data for 12 months....Regeneron also partnered with Pennsylvania’s Geisinger Health System to sequence 250,000 of its patients. The idea is to leverage large datasets to find people with unusual mutations that can point to targets for new drugs. The best example of this is a gene called PCSK9, which scientists in Texas found by chance when studying people with unusually high and unusually low cholesterol.
It's apparent that various pharmaceutical companies have negotiated multiple types of deals for DNA data acquisition. However, it's important to keep some details about DNA testing in mind such as that 23andMe performs DNA sequencing and not genotyping. Here is an explanation of this difference from the company web site (see: What Is The Difference Between Genotyping And Sequencing?):
Sequencing is a method used to determine the exact sequence of a certain length of DNA. You can sequence a short piece, the whole genome, or parts of the genome (such as the “exome," which are the regions of the genome that contain the the instructions for RNAs ...and proteins. Depending on the region, a given stretch of sequence may include some DNA that varies between individuals, in addition to regions that are constant. Thus, sequencing can be used to genotype someone for known variants, as well as identify variants that may be unique to that person. 23andMe uses genotyping, not sequencing, to analyze your DNA. Sequencing technology has not yet progressed to the point where it is feasible to sequence an entire person’s genome quickly and cheaply enough to keep costs down for consumers.
Obviously, sequencing data from 23andMe is less valuable than genotyping data but can still be very useful. Moreover, obtaining DNA data from 23andMe is limited by the fact that the accompanying clinical data is self-reported by customers. In comparison, the sequencing data that Geinsinger Health System is providing to Regeneron has the potential to be linked to the health system's EHR data (see: REGENERON AND GEISINGER HEALTH SYSTEM ANNOUNCE MAJOR HUMAN GENETICS RESEARCH COLLABORATION). Nevertheless, the scientists employed by pharma companies will have a priori hunches about the genetic basis for the various diseases they are investigating so they are not starting from scratch. Having only sequencing data plus some medical history from large consumer samples can thus be extremely valuable. We are only now seeing the early forms of collaboration between pharmas and the providers of DNA data; it can only grow more sophisticated as time passes.