Anne Wojcicki: Driving Discovery and Disruption [Entire Talk] | Summary and Q&A

November 29, 2017
Stanford eCorner
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Anne Wojcicki: Driving Discovery and Disruption [Entire Talk]

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In this video, the CEO of 23andMe, Anne Wojcicki, shares her journey from being a biology major to starting 23andMe. She talks about the challenges she faced, the changes in technology, market, and regulations, and the ethical considerations of genetic testing. She also discusses the importance of data, partnerships, and the future of healthcare.

Questions & Answers

Q: How did Anne go from being a biology major to starting 23andMe?

Anne explains that she did her PhD in neuroscience and was always passionate about biology and medicine. However, after graduating college, she felt that the healthcare system was not reflective of her values. She then began investing in healthcare companies and realized the potential for consumer-driven affordable healthcare. This frustration led her to start 23andMe, with the goal of empowering individuals through their genetic information.

Q: How has the technology, market, and regulations changed over time?

Anne explains that the technology they use is still the same as when they started, thanks to Illumina's reliable platform. However, the consumer market and regulations have been slower to catch up. When 23andMe first launched, the consumer was not ready for genetic testing, and even after 11 years, the consumer understanding is still evolving. As for regulations, 23andMe faced controversy and a warning letter from the FDA, but they chose to work with the agency to gain direct-to-consumer approval for their tests.

Q: What are the ethical considerations of genetic testing?

Anne believes that individuals should have the right to access their own genetic information, as it represents their own bodies. She also acknowledges the ethical debates surrounding sharing genetic information with family members and the potential risk of unnecessary worries. 23andMe focuses on giving people the choice to learn about themselves, while also respecting their choice to keep the information private. The company also takes extensive measures to protect customer privacy and obtain proper consent for research.

Q: What do you do with all the data collected by 23andMe?

Anne emphasizes that 23andMe is a data company. They use the data collected from their customers to publish research papers, collaborate with academic and pharma groups, and develop therapeutics. By following the data rather than starting with specific hypotheses, they have discovered insights in various health conditions. They also aim to use their data to transform the drug discovery process and fund preventive studies.

Q: Are you considering exploring other areas, such as the microbiome or environmental factors?

Anne explains that they always want more data and are open to exploring other areas. However, they are cautious about areas like the microbiome, as the technology and collection methods are not as reliable as in genetics. She also expresses interest in environmental testing, as it could bring truth to hypotheses about the effects of chemicals on health.

Q: How do you balance work and family?

Anne mentions that prioritization is key. She has made choices to minimize unnecessary travel, avoid time-consuming meetings, and be disciplined about what opportunities she pursues. She emphasizes the importance of being present for her family and has set strict boundaries to maintain a balance between work and family life.

Q: Do you plan to compensate people who contributed data if drugs are developed from it?

Anne believes that the research environment needs to change in terms of how it treats participants. While she acknowledges the importance of compensating participants, she does not mention any specific plans for compensating individuals if drugs are developed from their data.

Q: How did you manage to start a capital-intensive business like 23andMe?

Anne does not directly address this question in the video.

Q: What are you most excited about in the area of healthcare and genomics?

Anne expresses excitement about the enthusiasm and innovation from Silicon Valley in the field of healthcare, especially in terms of prevention and genomics. She believes that the culture of risk and innovation in the region can drive positive change in the industry. She also discusses the potential in partnering with retail companies like Walmart to make preventive healthcare more accessible to the general public.


Anne Wojcicki's journey from biology major to CEO of 23andMe is one of resilience, innovation, and a commitment to empowering individuals through genetic information. Her insights into the challenges of the healthcare system, the potential of data, and the importance of partnerships and prevention are inspiring. Privacy, ethics, and balancing work and family are all key considerations for 23andMe. Overall, Anne's passion for transforming healthcare and her belief in the power of data-driven solutions are evident throughout the conversation.

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