23andMe has announced a large-scale study intended to uncover the genetic reasons why diet and exercise have different effects on different people. (Photo: Frances Shaw

Pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline has bought a $300 million stake in genetic DTC testing company 23andMe to help further their genetics-based drug discovery. The deal, which was announced by Hal Barron on Wednesday alongside the company’s financial results, grants GSK exclusive access to 23andMe’s DNA database. With the information, GSK hopes to be able to improve their ability to identify promising new drug targets.

GSK has recently been making a concerted effort to rejuvenate their pharmaceutical sector, which has only seen sluggish growth for several years and which reported flat overall revenue at the end of the second quarter this year.

Pharma Unit Overhaul for GSK

Now, it appears that the most recent effort to support their R&D team involves investing heavily in genomic data. 23andMe, whose primary offering is saliva-based DNA testing kits for consumers, is reported to have 5 million customers, 80% of whom are thought to have opted in for their data to be used in research. It is the data of these customers, as well as the opportunity to work with 23andMe’s own R&D unit, that GSK is interested in.

“Human genetics is going to represent a core component of our drug discovery strategy, so 23andMe is a terrific partner for us to jump-start our efforts,” said Barron, who has served as GSK’s Chief Scientific Officer since January. “By studying genetically validated targets we think we can cut the cost of development in half or, putting it a different way, develop twice as many medicines for the same price.”

This agreement marks Barron’s first deal in his new position to support struggling pharma R&D.

GSK is not the first major pharma company to move into the genetics space; both Roche and AstraZeneca have already made similar strides to incorporate genomic data into their target identification pathways. However, with this deal, GSK have secured themselves exclusive access to the largest database in the world that combines genomic data with health information.