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Genomics startup halts next-generation gene sequencing

23andMe's CEO confirms it has stopped working on advanced technology that could help people learn more about their DNA.

Genomic startup 23andMe has scrapped plans to create cutting-edge next-generation gene-sequencing technology, saying its consumer base just isn't ready.

CEO Anne Wojcicki said Wednesday during the Wall Street Journal's WSJ.D Live global technology conference in Laguna Beach, California, that while the company was creating the technology to help its customers learn even more about their DNA, it has decided to concentrate on its core operations of direct-to-consumer DNA testing kits.

"Genetics is complicated," she said. "As a company, we are really focused on direct to consumer. Without a doubt we are a consumer product. We're not going through a physician. There is no other company out there that is direct to consumer."

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Genomic startup 23andMe CEO Anne Wojcicki explains at the WSJD Live conference why her company stopped pursuing cutting-edge next sequence genetic testing.

Patrick T. Fallon, Bloomberg via Getty Images

Three years ago, 23andMe was reprimanded by the Food and Drug Administration for giving out health information without involving a doctor. For more than a year, the FDA began letting the startup give some health information, such as warning of a genetic marker for cystic fibrosis, Wojcicki said.

However, she admitted that Silicon Valley startups probably don't have a good understanding of how to deal with regulatory agencies.

"You go to Silicon Valley because you want innovation, creativity," she said. "You don't go because you want regulatory expertise. Without a doubt, there was part of us that didn't necessarily understand how the regulatory environment worked."

And while other companies are beginning to sell next-generation sequencing-based tests to consumers, Wojcicki said she doesn't see her company experiencing a setback but rather going through a valuable learning experience.

"I don't see it as a setback at all. I see it as a company that really got to understand a new area and decided that we are going to focus and prioritize," she said. "Next-generation sequencing is without a doubt the hot shiny object, but what you're going to do with all of that information is an incredibly complicated area to get into...

"It's a whole new world and a lot of people just don't understand the basics of genetic information and that's what I see are the huge priorities for the next few years is getting people to understand the basics."