They didn’t take a DNA test: 23andMe lays off workers as demand falls

Lizzo made them famous, but the truth hurts: Demand for DNA testing kits is declining.


January 26, 2020

The DNA test-kit maker 23andMe laid off 100 people last week — 14% of its workforce — after a slump in sales, CNBC reported.

Does that mean the once-booming market for genetic testing could be headed for a downturn?

Lizzo made them famous, but the truth hurts…

…demand for DNA testing kits is definitely declining. MIT Technology Review said the total number of people who had ever bought the kits doubled in 2018, growing the databases of DNA-testing companies to more than 26m people. 

But last year was different. The largest companies sold just 4 to 6m tests in 2019, their slowest growth rate ever.

What explains the market’s retreat? Anne Wojcicki, 23andMe’s CEO, didn’t pinpoint a single cause. But people have a few theories: 

  • In-home DNA testing is weird science. Different tests can show very different results, and they’re not always reliable.
  • Consumers are asking, who’s got my data? The police have used people’s results to identify suspects in high-profile crimes.
  • There’s no good reason to buy another one. That DNA testing kit might make a cool gift for Uncle Joe — but probably just once. 

23andMe isn’t the only one who’s struggling

Veritas Genetics said in December that it was ceasing operations in the US. 23andMe is hoping that deals with drugmakers like GlaxoSmithKline, which are central to its health-testing business, will keep the company afloat.

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