tv Bloombergs Studio 1.0 Bloomberg April 24, 2016 10:00am-10:31am EDT
♪ emily: she founded a genetic testing company on one big idea, to create a dna database so big it could singlehandedly move science forward. even help cure deadly diseases. but in 2013, a near-disastrous blow. the fda yanked 23andme products off the market. this as ceo anne wojcicki had to face a very public divorce from her husband, google co-founder sergey brin. two years later, wojcicki and 23andme had made a remarkable comeback with its first fda approved consumer product, new funding and a $1.1 billion valuation.
joining me today on "studio 1.0," 23andme ceo and co-founder, anne wojcicki. anne: thank you. emily: it's so great to have you here. thanks for doing this. anne: yeah. any time. emily: the last two years for you have been crazy. it could have been disastrous for the company. but now you are back on good terms with the fda. how do you feel about where you are right now? anne: i feel great, like i'm super proud of the company and what we have accomplished because i think when you have to slog through and you just have to put your head down. that when there is a lot of work ahead of you and you're not going to see a reward for a couple of years, it's hard. i almost feel like we just climbed the first flight of stairs, but we're still climbing the empire state building. there is a lot more to go. it's amazing. we are back on the market. we have an incredible product. we have completely redesigned everything. and what i am really excited about is this is the first chapter in a whole new book for 23andme.
emily: so you now have the first fda-approved consumer genetic test that a consumer can get without -- anne: the first fda-cleared set of reports where consumers can go and buy things like cystic fibrosis tests without having to go through a genetic counselor or a physician. they can buy that directly from 23andme.com and get that information. emily: and this is a test that tests for recessive genes. things you might be able to pass on to your kids? anne: correct. there are things like cystic fibrosis that you might pass onto your children. but then also other things like your eye color, which is interesting in that it teaches people about genetics and things like caffeine metabolism, which again is just really interesting -- and lactose intolerance as well. emily: i would love it if you could to take me back to that day where you got that now infamous letter from the fda. anne: it was november 22, 2013. we were actually at an off-site planning for our future. we were all in great moods because we had hired a great number of people. we had a number of people that
had started that week. i think what we learned after that moment is how much there was a disconnect between what we thought we were trying to doing with the fda and what the fda actually really needed us to do. emily: did you think for a moment, oh, my goodness, i you could lose the company? anne: it took a while to understand. there was probably about six weeks time period there where we talked to a number of lawyers. we talked to the fda. we talked to groups. it became really clear that there was no easy option forward. emily: did you consider selling the company? seriously consider that? anne: the idea that the consumer is empowered and that genetic testing will be a foundation for health care in the future is just core to my being. i am wedded to this company for the rest of my life and i was not interested in selling. i was not interested in closing up shop and saying this is too hard. it was just a question of saying, you know what? we need to refocus. we need to hire the right people. we had a major miscommunication. we need to make sure we are executing the right way. emily: it was an arduous
process. you hired a regulation chief. you hired people who could better interact with washington. how did you get there? anne: it was me literally picking up the phone and calling everyone that i knew and saying what are the right lawyers to talk to in d.c.? who are the heads of regulatory teams i should i talk to? i'd say the anchor of helping figuring out what the path forward was going to be was when we hired cathy hibbs of genomic health. she had a tremendous amount of experience with genomic health. she understood genetics. she understood fda and added an element of structure to the company so that people could see that path that we were taking and that people wanted to join on. emily: there is so much more you want to accomplish. the test for breast cancer and alzheimer's, those have not been approved. what's the progress on that? anne: it's top my priority list. i think customers really want breast cancer results. they want alzheimer's. those are the types of things we're talking to the fda about. what is that path going to look like to move that forward.
i don't have any updates yet on that. emily: your original idea was to give customers access to their own data and to amass so much data you could singlehanded move science forward. you say you now have one million customers. is this the single biggest dna database out there? anne: it's definitely the biggest one being used for research. again, what's exciting for me about 23andme, what we were trying to do is the hypothesis that if we actually have the world's health care data and all this genetic information, everything about what you eat and how you exercise and your medical conditions and what you respond well to, that we are going to understand patterns and understand the genetic basis of disease. we will understand the genetic basis for why you might respond to a therapy or why you don't. in my dream world, i can imagine i walk into the physician and they say based on the data you have given us, you are a couple of years away from being diabetic. then if you want to make that
change, you do x, y, and z. that's my hope. you can actually, by have so much data, and by understanding your predisposed risks, that you can make conscious choices about what you are doing on a daily basis to mitigate those risks. emily: sergey has been a critical part of your story and you guys are now officially divorced. you have two kids and two companies. how you even go through a process like that? ♪
emily: your dad was a physics professor and your mom was an educator. tell me a little bit about your upbringing. anne: i grew up on a campus. i have two older sisters. it's interesting. i grew up next to people who did not do things for money. they did things because they loved it and that they were interested in and they questioned. the idea that you question all the time, that was core to me. emily: your sister, susan
wajcicki is the ceo of youtube. your other sister janet is an epidemiologist at ucsf. how do you all relate to each other? anne: we see each other a lot. to me in my world nothing has changed. my sisters are still my sisters. they come over and literally every time they come for dinner, they steal my clothes, especially my sister susan. we see each other at events now all the time. now it's like really fun. like, wow, we're both invited. let's go. we went to the oscars together. it's really fun. emily: what do you think it is about your family and your upbringing that bred three very successful daughters in completely different disciplines? anne: i think the core element is that we all do what we really love. and we all learned to take feedback really well. i think there is very few things people can say to me that truly insult me or i take offense at. we were raised in a way where we became relatively confident in ourselves. none of us do things just for
the money. we do things that we believe in and are really passionate about. emily: you went to yale and majored in biology. you also were a competitive figure skater and ice hockey player? anne: yeah. emily: you went into health investing. you were a health analyst. anne: i randomly got a job offer on wall street and i originally said no to the job. two weeks later i called them back and said babysitting is not that interesting. maybe i should go to wall street. emily: how did you go from wall street to silicon valley? anne: i invested for ten years. i invested in everything from birth to death. i was meeting with scientists and hospitals and i was understanding how the whole health system worked. but the more i dug into it, the more i recognized how much it's a business. i went to one meeting back in 2005. there were 1000 people here working on how they could maximize the billing outcomes for the patients coming in so they could take home as much money as possible. i just realized the system is never going to change. for me that was sort of me
throwing in the towel. as much as i'm investing and i believe there is such potential, the healthcare system i am seeing, that i'm investing in isn't the healthcare system that i want. it was all about start of movement where the consumer has a voice. emily: at a certain point you meant sergey brin, the co-founder of google. your sister susan rented her garage to him. anne: i met sergey because they started google in my sister's house. it was a joke. i could not avoid him because he was always there. we would be washing dishes and we'd see them in the other room. they were just there. and so i used to hang out at google all the time because for one my sister was and there was free food and it was fun. and so i got to know sergey. emily: what was that like for you being on the front lines at the founding of google? anne: i think sergey and larry, the thing i was most inspired with was they did not start it because they wanted money. they started it because they had the dream of having the world's information on their laptop.
i remember at one point they could have sold the company and then be professors and life would've been good, too. they did things in their own way. secondly, i would complain to larry about the health care space and how much i felt like healthcare was dysfunctional. he's like look, you're either part of the solution or part of the problem. that was kind of one of those calls to action. that was very much them. like, if it's bad, fix it. emily: one of the things you learned early on was that sergey was predisposed to parkinson's disease. that became a critical part of the story of 23andme and the way you communicated what you were trying to achieve. anne: the discovery came out right around the time that we were starting 23andme. i had talked to some of the physicians and scientists about getting sergey tested. and i was talked out of it.
they told me, what would you do with the information? even if he did have it, what would you do? i found that really offensive. how dare you tell me whether or not information is valuable for me. it should be my choice. i joked it was convenient that we had a spectacular science team. they put the mutations we were looking for on the chip. i remember i was sitting at the kitchen table. i called one of the scientists. i was like i think sergey has this mutation. is that what that means? and his mom has two copies, is that what this means? they were surprised. they had not seen a lot of people that had two copies of that mutation and sergey had one. getting that information definitely catapulted us onto a new journey of being really involved with michael j. fox and starting the 23andme parkinson's committee. emily: you say you have found new incites about parkinson's, for example, that could lead to a cure. anne: we made some interesting genetic discovering about parkinson's. we have somebody that leads the parkinson's team. we have some projects we are
talking about doing. really understanding the genetic mutations specifically that sergey has. he has something called dirk 2. we are talking about some of the big things we are going to do. emily: sergey has been a critical part of your story. you guys are now officially divorced. you have two kids and two companies between you. when there is so much wealth involved and you're under so much scrutiny, how do you go through a process like that? anne: it's complicated. that's all i can say. it's complicated.
divorce is never easy. we are very good friends. we see each other almost on a daily basis. we are supportive of each other. it's the new reality for relationships. emily: you're a single working mom. do you have any advice or any learnings from this period in your life? anne: i think that you just have to accept that you do the best you can. my mom would call, "what are you doing?" and it's 10:00 at night and my kids and i are eating ice cream. we just need -- they're not going to bed. we just needed the ice cream. there are moments when it's hard. you do the best that you can do. part of it is also being gentle on yourself. you can't necessarily do everything. part of what i think sergey and i have done really well, you optimize for finding the best in everybody and focus on the friendship. emily: you live in this silicon valley bubble. like we talked about earlier, you do seem so normal. how do you stay normal? anne: you stay focused on the things that are important. i volunteer in the school. i make sure that the kids do their homework. i see my family all the time. i still see all of my friends. emily: you've been really active, and your sister as well. you have this issue with women and technology and the lack thereof. how much progress have you seen and how much needs to be done? anne: there is an imbalance and it needs to change. it's a 10-year issue. i think the big issue now is also getting ethnic diversity in tech. you don't have to be the best at
something in order to have an impact. everyone is really good at something. i think it's really important that women understand there is a multitude of different roles they can have in tech. part of my job and my sister's job is not to be intimidated. i have frequently said there's men and women and then there is [beep] and you try to work with the men and women. and you just avoid -- there are men and women that are a pain and you don't want to work with. but try to really find those people and those anchor people who are going to support you. emily: what do you think about the situation that is unfolding with theranos? ♪
i have spent a lot of time with her. i have a lot of respect for her mission and what she is trying to do. but i have stayed out of knowing the details of it. i think health care is changing quite a bit. people are always going to be skeptical. the onus is on us to be really transparent. emily: i understand healthcare and what she is trying to do is hard. but after 12 years, does it seem like it should be more evolved at this point? anne: i'm hugely supportive of the idea that i can walk into any center and i don't need a physician. and i can just have a finger prick and can just get my information. i think people just want to see and understand the technology and understand the data. i get the concern. people are making life-and-death calls based on this data. they want to understand the why of how these things are happening. emily: the thing is this is a $10 billion company. people think it's a fraud. do you think it's a fraud? do you think it's possible what
she is trying to do? anne: i'm sure it's possible. everything i know about elizabeth, she is somebody who works incredibly hard. i have seen her discipline and how much she is working. i'm not close enough to the company to know about the technology. but i think that's what everybody wants to know. everybody is excited about the potential of new technology but want to understand what that technology actually is. emily: how do you walk that line between protecting your technology, your trade secrets and being transparent with the industry? anne: she is not required to have the transparency people are asking for. i think that's part of this disconnect that's happening now. the fda has put out guidance where they are actually trying to regulate that whole industry. if that is the type of call the fda is making, it will be good to have that same transparency across all diagnostics. when you are in the middle of a crisis situation, it's hard to ever evaluate. i think that's why it's the media's job. you guys are all digging in. part of when the truth comes out and when you are all executing and you have more fda approvals, all those things will speak to
what the reality is. right now, there is a lot of discussion. emily: let's talk about the future of 23andme. you now share data with genetech and pfizer and the goal is to incorporate all this data into drug discovery. how is the drug invention program going in house? anne: i love it. i am super excited about it. for people who have a disease, parkinson's is obviously one, or multiple sclerosis or chronic fatigue or any of these autoimmune diseases, if we can use this data to translate that into something meaningful, that's just a spectacular reward for our customers. emily: what diseases are you focused on? i know you are doing a lot of work on lupus for example. anne: we are working on lupus with pfizer. we are doing a number of partnerships with pharma companies. lupus, inflammatory bowel disease, parkinson's is a big initiative.
we are about to launch a few others. emily: are you going to do human testing yourself here? anne: what we want to do and what we've learned with pharma is pharma will react best if we come to them with a target or a compound with some clinical background, some data about how that's functioning. there is a higher likelihood of success if we can come with that level of information and help move that forward. emily: so that means you would do human testing here? anne: not physically right here. we would start doing some of our own clinical research for sure. emily: there is competition out there. ancestry.com does some similar things. they have a partnership with calico, which is google's project to end death or cure death. do you see google and calico as competition? anne: no. everything we do here is focused on genetics and engaging the consumer and making really interesting, engaging products for them. calico is purely focused on anti-aging. i always wish all these companies well.
i think it will expand the entire industry. i want to translate this information into really meaningful therapeutics so we can come and say, the same way hepatitis-c has been cured, i want to come and say we developed the cure for lupus. when i think about my success moment, it will be when we have that kind of cure that came because millions of people came together and shared their data. and because of that we were able to create something. that to me is eureka. emily: do you have any plans to go public? anne: i think part of -- we are not -- i am not eager to be a public company. i am absolutely not opposed to it at some point, but it's just a question of finding the right time. we will figure that out. there are definably pros and cons. emily: looking back, is there anything you would have done differently? anne: oh, for sure. every day. when you're pioneering you're always going to make mistakes. when i think back on it, we hired andy page as president. we almost hired him five years earlier, and yeah, we should have. we would've really been much
better. there is definitely easier business models than what we chosen to do. we believe so core in what we are doing, and i think in the long run, it's going to have a massive impact on society. and i think back on when we started the company, we had the lone voice. on the megaphone like, "own your data." it would echo. the fact that it's there, it's happening, and i see the super exciting world now where like 1996 when the internet was just starting, this is virgin territory. i see the little buds. it's all starting to sprout up. i think there can be this consumer health care world that is just spectacular and creates something parallel to the existing world. it's super complementary, but it's going to reflect more what you and i actually want for our health care. emily: i hope to see it. anne: well, keep talking. emily: anne wajcicki, ceo of 23andme, thank you so much for
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