DNA analysis heralds a health care revolution

August 22, 2008, 2:10 AM UTC
Fortune

Did you see the news this week that the two major personal DNA analysis companies, 23andMe and Navigenics, got licensed in California? What a brouhaha it’s been–regulators issuing cease-and-desist letters, apparently aiming to protect consumers from sham operators in this nascent industry.

I just visited 23andMe’s Linda Avey, who founded the company with Anne Wojcicki. Wojcicki happens to be the wife of Sergey Brin, the co-founder of Google , and Google is an investor in the company. All these folks, including Avey, are relieved about the California decision, but they’re still vying to get approval from New York state regulators.

It’s fascinating that so many of the leaders in this space happen to be women. Besides Wojcicki and Avey, there’s Mari Baker, the CEO of Navigenics, whom I’m seeing this afternoon. Also Ryan Phelan, the founder and CEO of DNA Direct, is up in San Francisco. This is more than coincidence, at least Avey believes so. “Woem tend to own the well-being in the family,” she says. “We give birth to the kids. That’s what we do. And women have such a wealth of information that they carry around in their heads.”

I’ve talked with quite a few high-level health experts about this controversial business. Sue Hellmann, the co-president of Genentech , has told me that in an era of consumer power and the Internet, personalized medicine via DNA analysis is inevitable. Genentech is another investor in 23andMe. I also saw Marissa Mayer, the vice president of search products and user experience at Google, yesterday. One of her big projects right now is Google Health, an effort to organize the world’s health information. No question, we’ll be seeing a revolution in health care in the next few years.