Fast Company’s daring 23andMe cover

An ill-timed story as Anne Wojcicki's DNA testing outfit runs afoul of the FDA


The current issue of Fast Company has Anne Wojcicki—founder of 23andMe and estranged wife of billionaire cyborg Sergey Brin—on its cover with the headline “The Most Daring CEO in America.”

She’s daring all right. So daring that her DNA-testing company, which will monetize your DNA by putting it in a database and mining it for pharmaceuticals, has since May ignored the Food and Drug Administration’s requests for information on whether her product actually worked.

Now the FDA has banned 23andMe from selling or marketing its home tests because of the firm’s intransigence and because it is “concerned about the public health consequences of inaccurate results from the PGS device.” Like telling people they’re bound to get nasty diseases when they’re really not.

PC Mag’s Sascha Segan writes that 23andMe, like GoldieBlox, is an example of Silicon Valley’s techno-libertarian arrogance, noting that the company had years to show the FDA that it’s product was safe:

But 23AndMe, apparently, just hasn’t bothered. Petty government regulators just get in the way of disruption, right? Shouldn’t the free market be able to determine the difference between real medicine and snake oil? I really hope that’s not a world you want to live in - or if it is, you’re the one who ends up consuming the snake oil…

The bold innovators of Silicon Valley clearly aim to innovate and drag the rest of society behind them into a glorious future, making money along the way. But an attitude that entitled is obviously going to raise some hackles. Technologists need to remember that they aren’t above society - they’re part of it.

The company will take taxpayer-funded grants from the National Institute of Health, of course.

It all adds up to unfortunate timing for Fast Company, particularly since the magazine doesn’t ever mention the FDA or ask whether 23andMe’s test actually works.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum. Tags: , , , ,