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Conversation with Joanna Mountain. Part 2

Joanna Mountain, Senior Director of Research at 23andMe.
So, in your reports there is a very clear ancestry analysis, which is very very interesting and I guess is very easy to understand, and to see the results… And then, the health. To which extent the health report is interesting for everyone to know it? To which extent this may be important? Well, I don’t have exact numbers on that, but if we do ask our costumers after they have signed up, “what is your primary reason?” And you know, people will say, both…you know… either of those two. But, even when we are not able to provide the health reports, you know, for a couple of years… People were still buying when it was ancestry only; people will continue to buy the service.
And, however, I… we do see that since we added back the health, you know, we’ve had, you know, a sharper increasing growth of costumers so, there seems to be very strong interest in the health side. Yes, no doubt. Sometimes I think that the information we have on health, I would say, in a big part is not very, very relevant. So there is a tiny fraction in which it’s very important, but for most people it is not. So, is it disappointing for these people that said “well, you’re a normal human being, with no special things”? Right, so, the one common that I’ve heard about that is someone said …
-And this is a faculty member of Stanford- said: “Oh you should tell people, well, you’re very lucky, you don’t have any of these variants”. You know, this is something to be happy about. So, but I do find that if people have one thing that shows up as being sort of maybe actionable, or something that provokes their thought and consideration, that’s where is the value. You don’t need to find that every person find value in every report. You know, if they find value in, you know, one or two… And maybe it’s the traits reports that resonate more, or the ancestry. So, the whole package, typically, there’s something in there, for every costumer. Yes, not doubt.
In my case, I have already explained that in the lesson: I had a very high chance of deep vein thrombosis and I had it previously to know my genetic propensity. So now you are able again to give a health report. So this is just the regulations of the Food and Drug Administration? Is it going to be open or is it going to be more open? How do you see the change in measures? So, in 2015 we finally obtained the authorization to market the first carrier status report, and that also opened the door for us to provide many other carrier status reports and that.
But the going back to the last year, we were able to start offering the genetic health-risk reports, which are, you know, typically a little bit more complex, they’re not mendelian. But they’re highly valued by our customers. Reports such as the Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, and certainly the venous thromboembolism, and we released one on celiac. So, we have slowly been adding back these reports and the FDA is giving authorization for those as well. So, we continue to work closely with the FDA to return these reports and interpretations of the data that the costumers have. Yeah. And this is going to be increased in the future, you think?
So, as we continue to work with the FDA, we have to provide so much information to support our applications. For instance, we do a lot of consumer testing, comprehension testing, to make sure people understand the reports. And we may revise the reports in some cases based on the user feedback, until we get a level of comprehension that is satisfactory to us, and to the FDA. So, I believe that with that continued process, we will continue to add new health reports.
Joanna Mountain, Senior Director of Research at 23andMe.

She is responsible for overseeing research projects, ensuring the potential of research participants and developing ancestry product offerings.

In this interview with Joanna, we will focus on the interest of personal genomics. We will also look at how companies like 23andMe deal with ancestry and health analysis and at the main challenges they face.

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