What a mix of brains and buzz Tuesday night at Barry Diller’s IAC headquarters in Manhattan. Jessica (my partner on Postcards) and I were there for a “23andMe Spit Party,” hosted by Diller and Diane von Furstenberg, Rupert and Wendi Murdoch, and Harvey Weinstein and Georgina Chapman.
Think spit meets splash. 23andMe’s business is personal genetics. So the idea of the party, where colorful chromosone cartoons flashed on giant screens in a Frank Gehry-designed space, was to have guests submit DNA samples to 23andMe. A month or so later, you get a genetic analysis — health profile or ancestry or both — in return, for $399. Claiming that advanced genotyping technologies make the analysis less expensive to do, 23andMe dropped its price 60%, from $1,000, yesterday.
As if this crowd needs a discount. 23and Me’s founders are Linda Avey and Anne Wojcicki, who is married to Sergey Brin, the billionaire co-founder of Google . There was Brin, super casual in blue Crocs and a bulky camera around his neck, as if he were the party’s official photographer. Jess and I chatted with a bunch of powerful women, including Hearst Magazines president Cathie Black, Esther Dyson, and Tina Brown — who told me that her new website, reportedly a news-aggregating venture with Diller, is launching Oct. 1.
We also talked with some serious scientists and doctors, like Seth Berkley, who heads the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative. He believes that DNA analysis startups like 23andMe — even though they are wrestling with regulators particularly in New York State — will transform medicine. Katie Hood, who heads the Michael J. Fox Foundation, told us she agrees. Personalized medicine, in the control of consumers, is one benefit, she said, but outfits like 23andMe might also help organize and advance scientific research about Parkinson’s and other diseases. That may be the greater good.
While the mood was celebratory — exuberant, really — a chill hung in the air as this highly-connected crowd buzzed about Lehman Brothers , a couple of miles uptown. (“Can Dick Fuld hang on?…Will Lehman survive as an independent entity?”) How strange, as Allen & Co. banker Nancy Peretsman told us that she’s having her best year ever. And her firm is riding high, thanks to deal-doing with Murdoch and Diller and Google and other folks who embrace transformation. As we said Tuesday night, change is compacting into ever shorter periods of time — and Peretsman bets this will continue. Who would have imagined a decade ago that Murdoch’s News Corp. would own Dow Jones, Google would become indispensable, and a Spit Party would draw such a splashy crowd?