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23andMe CEO on public debut, future of genetic testing

DNA testing company 23andMe started trading on Thursday under the ticker ‘ME’. Anne Wojcicki, 23andMe CEO, joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss the company going public and the future of genetic testing post-COVID.

Video Transcript

ZACK GUZMAN: We got another company going public via a SPAC merger, this time a company you might know well. That would be DNA sequencing company 23andMe making its debut today. And shares hitting a session high, now up 10% in that debut after finalizing the deal to go public via a SPAC merger with Richard Branson's SPAC Virgin Acquisition Corp.

And for more on the plans for the company to ride this wave we're seeing right now, I want to bring on the CEO of 23andMe. Anne Wojcicki joins us right now alongside Yahoo Finance's Brian Sozzi. And Anne, congrats on the debut. We don't get to celebrate a lot of these things. But always fun to have the CEOs on for their big day. Talk to me about what it's like to now come through this deal and what you're seeing shape up for your guys' quarters to come here.

ANNE WOJCICKI: Listen, it's super exciting. I've always run this company not necessarily expecting that we were going to be a public company. And it certainly was never the goal. The goal has always been really about what's the impact to the customer, the end person. And how do you really make personalized medicine and personalized health care a reality?

So it's a phenomenal day. I love actually being able to be a public company because we do have a strong consumer brand. And it's really about engaging our customers more and more. So being a public company just gives us a platform to engage even more and to have a bigger impact.

BRIAN SOZZI: Anne, you come from the world of Wall Street. How will that experience help you in your public company journey?

ANNE WOJCICKI: Oh, well, you know, it's fun. Like, for one, it was great during the last few months. I've been reengaging with investors and a lot of old friends that I've known. I think the most important thing for me as now a CEO here is focusing on the long run and the long-term vision. So I really think about the next five to 10 years. And what is that ultimate goal for the company? And how do you really have that kind of impact to really transform an industry, which is health care and drug discovery?

So I'm very cognizant that Wall Street definitely has a shorter time frame. And I think part of what I'm excited about is going to be engaging. I love speaking with my investor friends and re-engaging and understanding that there's the short-term questions. And I'm absolutely focused on the long-term vision.

BRIAN SOZZI: Where do you think the company is in 10 years?

ANNE WOJCICKI: Well, if I think on 2003, Francis Collins came out and talked about how genetics was going to transform how we predict, prevent, and treat all human disease. And in some ways, that's exactly what we're executing on. We're putting genetics in the hands of people so that they can really understand the human genome. And they can engage in research. They can follow along as we're figuring out what the genome means and what it means for them.

So people are absolutely benefiting today from information about their own genome. And long-term, I'm really excited about the idea of an, essentially, crowdsourced platform fueling drug discovery. And how great will it be one day to come back here and say that my customers who have engaged and opted into research have now cured some number of diseases?

AKIKO FUJITA: Anne, that's something that you've talked a lot about, being able to use the data that 23andMe has to be able to accelerate some of the R&D. You had a study that just came out on COVID-19 as well. When you look ahead to some of your partner companies, what's in the pipeline for you that you think 23andMe can really help accelerate in terms of development as well as research?

ANNE WOJCICKI: What's interesting that we do that I think a lot of people don't understand is we do research really at scale. We're not a specific disease company. We're not just psoriasis or cancer or Parkinson's. We look broadly across the human genome. And then we follow the data.

So we look at all of the-- over 11 million customers, over 80% of them have opted to research, billions of data points in the database. So we use all of that to make discoveries. We have over 200 publications that have come out. We're all about contributing back to the research world. But we follow some of those discoveries to see, can you actually turn that into a therapeutic program.

So that's where, again, the power of our customers being able to really have an impact on basic science discovery as well as the whole drug discovery world--

ZACK GUZMAN: Yeah, Anne, let's talk about the shift in what 23andMe is too because that's also interesting, kind of shifting from a DNA sequencing company, as people may have known it, to figuring out, all right, who am I related to, to now kind of the health aspects and really leaning into that. You guys showed a slowdown of growth in terms of revenue in the last fiscal year relative to the year before that. I mean, how hard is it maybe to shift the image of 23andMe from one of what it was before to kind of the health side now? And what are you expecting to see in maybe converting prior customers to really lean into that to drive growth?

ANNE WOJCICKI: Well, what was interesting, when we started the company, it was always about a holistic view of ancestry and health. And if you even think about our name, it was particularly not just a health company. It's not an ancestry company. We're very different in that way.

So we absolutely leaned into the ancestry opportunity when everyone was sort of thinking about, what is my identity. Where am I from in the world? How am I connected to other people? And it was a huge opportunity to actually get people involved and just give them a taste of what does your genetics mean.

A lot of people, if you just sit there in a mall one day and just listen, the number of times you'll hear people talk about DNA or their ancestry is fascinating. But yet people don't really understand exactly what that's going to mean in their health. And so that's what we are defining for people. What truly is a personalized health care experience for them?

So people understand ancestry. And we rushed to definitely, when people were interested in it, like really put in the marketing dollars to have people join 23andMe. And then we did slow down, specifically with this idea, saying, we're going to pivot. We're going to spend the time really helping people understand what do you do with your health information. And how do we actually really educate the world about what that experience is going to be?

BRIAN SOZZI: To that end, Anne, you do have a partnership, I believe, with GlaxoSmithKline, struck, I think, in 2018 to develop drugs based on data that you do in fact get. When will that first product be coming out?

ANNE WOJCICKI: Well, we have our first program already in humans. So that's something that GSK is leading. CD96, it's a phenomenal oncology program that is in humans now. And they will continue to update as data comes out on that. We have over 40 programs underway in research. And we have our own program that we'll be updating you on soon.

ZACK GUZMAN: When it comes to the subscribers you're talking about too on the health side, what kind of growth have you seen there? It looked like as of January, you had a little over 83,000 subscribers to that. I mean, what is the expectation there as you build that side out, maybe for the rest of the year?

ANNE WOJCICKI: Yeah. What we expected when we originally launched our subscription product, we launched it in part because we had surveyed our customers to ask them about, really, what do they want next from 23andMe. And over 70% of them were saying-- over 75% said that they were actually trying to change their lifestyle and do more.

And we realized, our customers wanted more from 23andMe. So the first thing that we're doing with our subscription product that now has over 125,000 subscribers-- that was the last update we gave. So the first thing we're doing is we're getting additional content. So some of our polygenic risk reports on heart disease, on pharmacogenetics, all of that now as part of the subscription product.

So in the future, we absolutely think more and more about how do we really help people understand the information that they have and then use that in their life for true personalized health care. And is that part of a physician consult? Is that part of additional blood testing, pharmacogenetics, actually getting, really, the right medication? So all of those types of things are areas that we're exploring right now.

ZACK GUZMAN: Exciting times. And exciting to be, now, a publicly traded company there, as you see shares in the green. Ann Wojcicki, always love chatting with you, 23andMe CEO alongside Yahoo Finance's Brian Sozzi. Congrats again on the debut.