23andMe won’t continue with next-generation DNA sequencing and has reportedly laid off the lab working on the project.
About half-a-dozen workers were laid off from the Salt Lake City, Utah-based lab, according to BuzzFeed, which first reported the news. By our own count based on LinkedIn, at least five members of the lab have been let go, including its chief medical officer, Dr. Jill Hagenkord, who was hired to head the project in 2014.
The company will continue selling its core product, a $199 kit testing for genetic markers having to do with health and ancestry, and founder Anne Wojcicki told TechCrunch in September it would be making a bigger effort to gather more and better genetic information from more diverse populations around the world.
But a more modern type of sequencing technology, commonly referred to as next-gen sequencing, won’t be a focus for now.
Next-gen sequencing is a sort of catch-all term for a number of methods offering a more detailed overview of your genetic code. The new technology has dramatically dropped in price in the last few years and gives researchers a closer look at potential diseases. Companies like Helix, Color Genomics and Genos have started to crop up, as a result, offering this more comprehensive approach to discovering what makes you, “you,” as well as any genetic issues you may need to know about.
23andMe began looking at the technology in 2012, starting with a pilot study on exome sequencing. The company noted the success of the study at the time and said it would, “prepare for the day when full-genome sequencing will be an affordable possibility for everyone.”
So far, 23andMe has not gotten back to TechCrunch when asked why it dropped this line of pursuit, but founder Anne Wojcicki told BuzzFeed it had nothing to do with slowed demand, money or regulatory issues. Instead, she said, “we have our hands full,” and that it was maybe just a bit too complicated to deal with for now.
“We spent a lot of time pursuing sequencing, and I think as we started to understand it better and better and understand the complexities, we decided to focus on our core business,” she told BuzzFeed.
We’ll be sure to update you if and when we get more information on this development.