Anne Wojcicki, co-founder and CEO of 23andMe (right) celebrates with 23andMe employees after remotely ringing the NASDAQ opening bell at the headquarters of DNA technology company 23andMe in Sunnyvale, California, USA on June 17, 2021.

Peter DaSilva | Reuters

The newest trade on the exchange is “ME”.

23andMe, a personalized medicine and home genetic test kit company, went public on Thursday through a merger with a Richard Branson SPAC, VG Acquisition Corp..

23andMe stock rose 21% on the Nasdaq on its first day of trading as a publicly traded company.

Founded by Anne Wojcicki – the former wife of Google founder Sergey Brin who was an early investor in the company – 23andMe was founded 15 years ago. Together with Ancestry, it helped advance the idea that genetic testing is not just a medical field, but a big consumer business. His home test kits, which enabled people to find out their genetic profiles and ancestry by sending some saliva in the mail, ushered in a new era of personalized medicine, albeit not without controversy.

23andMe, a four-time CNBC Disruptor 50 company, had no straight or sure path to success as a publicly traded company.

It was reviewed by the FDA earlier in its history; Questions about consumer privacy continue to arise as genetic information is collected from millions of people; has run into financial difficulties in recent years when the market for personalized genetic testing seemed saturated; Skepticism about the basis of their gene-based risk analysis remains controversial; and as it delves deeper into drug development, a gap in its current customer base and underlying genetic data between a mostly European genetic profile and an underrepresentation of many minorities and ethnic groups.

“It will take time … to really make sure we get all communities to participate in the research,” Wojcicki said Thursday morning in an interview with CNBC’s TechCheck. “You can’t make discoveries in a population if those people aren’t part of it. We need the right customers and we have to present the product to them in the right way.”

Wojcicki says the company has big things ahead of it for both its consumer and drug discovery and development platforms. Approximately 80% of 23andMe’s 11 million members now choose to share their genetic information (anonymized) for drug development research.

“Our genetics represent all of life on this planet and we have the opportunity to understand what it means and, in doing so, it will improve your own life, but it will also contribute to all kinds of research discoveries,” said Wojcicki.

She says the controversy over the medical usefulness of the information won’t go away once it is put into the hands of consumers, and it ranges from critical, clinical information such as mutations in the gene that causes breast cancer, BRCA, to “more controversial” genetic ones Information on variants of Alzheimer’s disease. Some people at higher risk of blood clots choose to walk around more during flights based on their 23andMe reports.

However, she added that consumers have shown that they want this information to help them make decisions.

In the case of Alzheimer’s risk, she said, “This information … really affects how they live their lives … how they retire … plan to get older.”

Her own 10-year-old son used the company’s lactose intolerance analysis to diagnose his abdominal pain, and Wojcicki herself said, although she was reluctant to talk about her personal use of the product, as the daughter of a woman who suffered from breast cancer and who a higher risk of illness, the information influences their decision to drink that “leisure glass of wine”.

“Over the past 15 years we’ve built the infrastructure so we can take off to prove to consumers that we can get the information and understand it without a healthcare professional,” she said.

In her opinion, the key to the future is that consumers want to use the information not only to change their lives, but also to contribute to drug discovery.

23andMe has 40 programs ongoing on its drug discovery platform.

“We want them to have a truly personalized health experience and … benefit the human genome when all of this aggregated data is turned into therapeutic programs,” said Wojcicki. “When I think about the future of therapeutics, the next five years are really about moving these programs forward and getting them into the clinic.”

The company also recently launched a subscription product to bring more content and services to consumers who want to take extra steps after their genetic reports.

“We reach thousands of people who call the customer care team each week and want to know how this information can be used and applied to lead healthier longer lives,” she said.

The IPO market already set an annual record for the transaction volume of $ 171 billion in 2021, and only halfway through the year. Average first day trading profits on trades this year were over 40%. Although both the traditional IPO market and SPAC yields have cooled in recent months, the Renaissance IPO ETF and CNBC SPAC Index have been negative since the start of 2021, with a continuation of last year’s big gains since the start of the year. Meanwhile, concerns about SPAC deals have increased, and some high profile SPACs like Branson’s Virgin Galactic and electric vehicle maker Lordstown Motors have shown high levels of volatility.

Nonetheless, Branson and other investors plan to bring another space company, the satellite internet service Virgin Orbit, to the public via a SPAC in the coming weeks.

This history has been updated for the company’s closing price on the first day of trading on Thursday.

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