This week, 23andMe -- a company that provides genetic test results to customers -- announced that it is giving the DNA data of their customers to GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), the ninth-largest pharmaceutical company on the planet. The deal gives GSK access to the database that 23andMe has developed that includes the genomes of over 5 million people.

Announced on Wednesday, scientists Hal Barron and Richard Scheller -- who previously worked together at Genentech -- advocated for the exclusive partnership. As part of the deal, 23andMe got $300-million from GSK for the four-year agreement, while GSK now has exclusive access to one of the private genetic databases in the world. However, the announcement of the deal reassures that the database will be used for “research and development of innovative new medicines and potential cures.”

23andMe’s ancestry services are based on its analysis of saliva samples sent in by customers. In 2017, the federal Food and Drug Administration said that the company’s sequencing tests are accurate enough to provide reports about whether customers have specific disease risk factors. It is thereby that 23andMe could partner with pharmaceuticals on the medical applications of its genetic database.

23andMe’s customers have the option whether or not their data can be included in research trials. Company CEO Anne Wojcicki recently stated that its customers can choose to opt-in or opt-out of studies at any time. 23andMe contends that 80 percent of its customers choose to allow their data to be used in future research.

The law enforcement applications of genetic sequencing recently became evident. Canada, for example, is using genetic data from Ancestry.com and other services in deportation cases. And Joseph James Deangelo -- the Golden State Killer -- was ferreted out by detectives who uploaded his DNA information on the GEDmatch.com website. Ancestry.com currently has 10 million users and 23andMe.com has 5 million. Defenders of civil liberties have expressed concerns over privacy issues raised by the sale of genetic information to private companies, and the sharing of that information with government.

Above is a statement released by GEDmatch following the discovery of the Golden State Killer.

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Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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