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27 Jul, 2015 18:23

Google's Calico to access Ancestry.com genetic data in effort to lengthen lifespans

Google's Calico to access Ancestry.com genetic data in effort to lengthen lifespans

Google-backed medical research company Calico will partner with Ancestry.com to identify genetic patterns of anonymous people who have lived long lives with the aim of producing drugs to encourage those traits.

Calico and Ancestry.com's subsidiary, AncestryDNA, will study the "anonymized data from millions of public family trees and a growing database of over one million genetic samples" in "an effort to investigate human heredity of lifespan," Calico announced last week.

Once AncestryDNA and Calico determine how genetics have helped some live exceptionally long, Calico will then work to "develop and commercialize any potential therapeutics that emerge from the analysis," the company said.

AncestryDNA has genotyped DNA sequences of more than one million of Ancestry.com's customers, according to Re/code, and has around two million active subscribers. Ancestry.com CEO Tim Sullivan said that many medical research companies have long requested access to Ancestry.com's trove of data.

“We have been looking at, and frankly responding to, inquiries from a number of parties about ways that we can collaborate to take the data that we’ve aggregated historically, and that we’re starting to aggregate now, and get some real scale," Sullivan told Re/code.

Neither Calico nor Ancestry.com unveiled the terms of the deal. Sullivan was also tight-lipped about any potential deals with Google in the future.

"We have a lot of business relationships with Google, but nothing else that I can speak to,” he told Re/code.

Google is ultimately careful about not divulging how much it has invested into Calico.

Ancestry.com revealed AncestryHealth this month as a platform for customers to track personal health in order to combine that information with their genetic data.

“On the heels of our AncestryHealth launch and our one million genotyped customers milestone for AncestryDNA, we’re excited to announce this collaboration with Calico to research and develop life changing solutions,” said Ken Chahine, Ancestry.com's executive vice president and head of DNA and Health.

“We have laid the groundwork for this effort through the combination of an unmatched family history database, one of the fastest growing genetic databases, and a strong and talented team of computer scientists and professional genealogists.”

In January 2015, Google-backed 23andMe came to a similar agreement with Genentech to outline genetic background of those with Parkinson's disease.  Genentech was previously run by Arthur Levinson, now CEO of Calico.

In February, the US Food and Drug Administration approved marketing of 23andMe's at-home DNA testing available to consumers without a health professional’s guidance. The FDA's authorization pertained to a carrier screening test for Bloom Syndrome. Anne Wojcicki, the founder and CEO of 23andMe, married and is now separated from Google co-founder Sergey Brin. Google and Brin have millions of dollars invested in 23andMe.

According to Re/code, several major hospitals and private organizations such as Human Longevity, Inc. are also pushing into the field of anti-aging research and genetic mapping.

“It’s been a heavily underinvested area relative to its market value,” said Malay Gandhi, managing director of digital health fund Rock Health.