23andMe and GlaxoSmithKline Partnership Ends, Sparking Additional Layoffs

23andMe has been slimming down. In April, they announced they were cutting about 75 jobs in their therapeutics division, equating to about 9% of their workforce, and now they have cut another 71 employees in response to the end of the five-year GSK partnership.

GenomeWeb reported the earlier and most recent 23andMe layoffs, along with a 6% revenue dip, here. 23andMe is a publicly held company and reported a net loss of $104.6 million.

In 2018, 23andMe partnered with GSK, GlaxoSmithKline, a British drug company, to jointly develop drugs based on the genomic profiles of their customers who choose to participate in this type of research. You may have noticed that 23andMe asks a wide variety of questions that genealogy testing companies typically don’t, and they also report on health and traits.

At the onset of the partnership, GSK made a $300 million equity investment in 23andMe. If you need to cure insomnia, you can read the SEC filing, here.

The original partnership was to last four years and could be extended for an additional 5th year, which it was, landing another 50 million dollars in the 23andMe coffers.

According to the press release by 23andMe and this 2020 blog article, the partnership has been successful, adding more than 40 genetically validated drug discovery programs to the GSK portfolio, making me wonder why the partnership was not extended.


The 23andMe page for medical professionals states that they have more than 12 million customers worldwide.

23and Me has stated several times that about 80% of their customers opt-in to research, which means that their de-identified DNA sequences are made available to both 23andMe and their selected partners for research purposes.

Accordingly, about 8 million people have opted-in to research.

If you’re doing the math, that means that:

  • 23andMe received $29.17 for each of their 12 million customers

Viewed another way:

  • 23andMe received $43.75 for each of their 8 million customers who are opted-in for research

Attempting to Increase Revenues

In the past several months, 23andMe has attempted to staunch the corporate blood flow by:

Neither of these moves have been well-received by genealogists.

Purchase Price

23andMe sells two types of tests. One is for both health and ancestry, and the second is for ancestry, aka genealogy, only.

  • The 23andMe Health and Ancestry test is currently priced at $229. The yearly membership costs an additional $69, for a total of $298, but the membership is currently free during the first year. That’s a lot for an autosomal test that only buys you up to 5000 matches.
  • The 23andMe ancestry-only test is $119, but comes with restrictions, including the 1500 match limit.

For comparison purposes, this article shows how many matches I have at each vendor.

If you want more than 1500 matches, you MUST PURCHASE the Health and Ancestry test, not the lower-cost genealogy-only test, plus the additional membership.

This is a very difficult pill to swallow (pardon the pun.) None of the other DNA testing companies limit your matches or charge for matching, and their prices right now for their autosomal tests are as follows:

Subscription aka Membership

In order to entice customers into purchasing subscriptions, called memberships, 23andMe allows up to 5000 matches instead of 1500. 23andMe has also limited additional features, taking them away from their original customers and putting them behind the subscription paywall.

In October 2020, when they implemented subscriptions, called memberships, along with these changes, they reduced their customers’ original match limit from 2000 to 1500. Of course, to receive more matches, you could purchase a new test and subscribe. No thank you.

In another attempt to throttle services to earlier customers, there were initially no ethnicity updates for people in October of 2020 who had tested on V2, V3 or V4 chips, although following public outcry, they reversed that position for at least the V3 and V4 customers. No other DNA testing company excludes customers from ethnicity updates. 

One cannot perform other functions, such as sort or filter by haplogroup on their site, unless you purchase the Health and Ancestry test, plus a membership. You can, however, download your matches and sort/filter that way..

What’s Next for 23andMe?

23andMe says they are now actively pursuing new big pharma partners.

I hope they can find their way forward. While I don’t often find relevant matches at 23andMe anymore, and I have an issue with their subscription policy, especially removing features from existing customers, they do have a pool of 12 million-ish people. These matches certainly help many people, especially because their health customers probably won’t have tested elsewhere.

Having said that, I can’t help but wonder how many of those 12 million are the same person multiple times because they’ve had to purchase multiple tests. I’ve purchased three for myself over the years, and I’m not purchasing a fourth – but I digress.

  • 23andMe is still a good site for matching, especially for adoptees or people seeking unknown family members. You can also see how your matches match each other. You just never know where that critical match is going to pop up.
  • 23andMe provides painted ethnicity chromosome segments, along with FamilyTreeDNA. In my opinion, they are the top two vendors for ethnicity accuracy.
  • 23andMe and FamilyTreeDNA both report X-DNA matching, which can be very useful.
  • 23andMe is still the only vendor to construct a genetic tree – and yes – I know it’s not always completely accurate. Still, their tree creation is innovative and automated – based on how you match people and how they match each other. For adoptees and people seeking parents or grandparents, it’s essential because they start with nothing.
  • 23andMe doesn’t allow customers to upload or create a family tree, so you can’t view the family tree of your matches to find a common ancestor. You can include a link to your online family tree in your Enhanced Profile under Settings, but many people never see this, or aren’t genealogists.

Unfortunately, 23andMe is not focused on genealogy – at all. Their focus has always been medicine and health. From their perspective, genealogists are candidates to opt-in for genetic research, but that doesn’t mean genealogists can’t still benefit – even if we don’t opt-in, don’t purchase the more expensive $229 Health and Ancestry test, and don’t purchase their membership.

If you’re interested in more recent relatives, 23andMe is great because the 1500 match limit won’t impact you at all. Closer relatives will cluster at the top of your match list.

If you’re looking for matches that descend from more distant ancestors, you may find it worthwhile to purchase the more expensive test and the membership, at least for one year.

Filtering/Sorting Restriction Workaround 

While there’s no way around the 1500 or 5000 match limit, except that 23andMe won’t roll someone off of your match list if you’ve communicated with them, or tried to, there is a workaround for the restrictive filtering.

I check my matches periodically, sorting by the newest matched relatives. I also download my match list occasionally. I find it easier to review the information in spreadsheet format because I can search for surnames, locations, haplogroups and other information much more easily than online, especially given the restrictive filters.

However, when you download your match list, that information is downloaded as well.

Be sure to record notes on each match at 23andMe when you discover relevant information by clicking on the match and scrolling to the very bottom of the page. Your notes at 23andMe are downloaded onto the spreadsheet along with the rest of their information.

The instructions for downloading your match list, which is NOT the same as downloading your DNA file, are contained in this article. Give it a try!


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12 thoughts on “23andMe and GlaxoSmithKline Partnership Ends, Sparking Additional Layoffs

  1. Thank you once again Roberta for this info! As it happens, my son-in-law and I were already aware of the business/stock mkt. situation and so we were acting pro-actively to save important data but didn’t know about the ability to download the match list – I just did multiple screen shots. I never realized the “notes” aspect even existed there so will need to go back & fill out. As someone looking for bio-grandparents, I concur that both the matches received and the DNA family Tree that is generated are very high quality but that may change if the $$ become an obstacle!!!

  2. Ancestry wants to get into health but presumably doesn’t have medical scientists and they have always lacked the technology for the very valuable chromosome visualization wanted by the genealogy market. Makes me wonder if 23andme were bleeding money if it made sense for them to partner with Ancestry for their mutual benefit, which would elevate them both to the #1 spot as the first place for testing.

  3. GlaxoSmithKline is the company name (GSK is used as the stock symbol, and often as a shortened company name in reporting, but that does not change the name of the company) . GSK plc and GSK Group also exist. (The huge multinationals get quite a collection of names, subsidiaries, split-offs, and parent companies.)

  4. Thank you for the company information. The revelations are probably important to family researchers. That said, as a family researcher, I don’t know how I can do much with the information.

    Your article is very informative and brings up benefits and issues with 23&Me, which is always good to review.

    One point of difference from your notes is that “I CAN edit my tree” ! I remember in the past getting a message from 23&Me that the tree generation algorithm had been revised, but to update my tree I had to delete the old one. I decided to just keep the old one as it is time-consuming to build. I very occasionally get a suggestion about adding a match to the tree. Almost all of my tree is built by me, and I plan to keep it that way.

    I am someone who has NO close relatives who have tested. Over the last 4 years, I have been lucky that one by one, 2nd cousins have tested in most of my primary lines. I have lots of 3rd cousins. I have been amazed that each of the databases seems to cover difference parts of my family tree. ( Thanks to Genetic Affairs hybrid clustering – I can quickly get a look at combining them ).

    23&Me has provided important coverage of areas of my tree that are not populated by the other databases. This is probably different for each person, and as you say, shows the value of uploading DNA data to various DNA databases.

    Also interesting to me is that for the last two years, the new matches at Gedmatch come heavily from 23&Me. Older matches in Gedmatch are swayed more toward Ancestry.

    Just random observations of another DNA user for family history.

  5. The ability to see how your matches match each other even at the segment level (using “Advanced DNA Comparison”) is one of the best features of 23andMe. The 1500 match limit can be frustrating now that my match list is larger but saving my old matches does help somewhat as you mentioned. And working with the downloaded match list/info is so useful. They really do have a nice set of tools despite their non-genealogy focus.

  6. Great article, I think that consumers will shortly hit a tipping point on their willingness to pay for monthly and/or subscription fee services. We will see it shortly with television and then automobiles…

  7. I still find 23andMe quite valuable. All five of my full siblings tested there, as did my father, my daughter, my wife, and my wife’s brother. But I’ve also been fortunate enough to occasionally get significant new matches.

    For example, I have two nieces, two nephews, a great nephew, a 1st cousin, and a couple of 1st cousins once removed who have now tested. With the exception of one of the two 1st cousins once removed, all opted in to the chromosome browser.

    One thing I’ve been able to use 23andMe for for comparison to Ancestry — at least for those few who have tested at both places. It’s partly because of this that I’ve been able to determine that a number of Ancestry’s assumptions about sharing DNA with more distant relatives are simply wrong.

    So I would be sorry to lose this resource, if it comes to that. (And I paid for all ten kits in my immediate family, plus for upgrades for several of them.)

    Worst thing maybe is, less competition for Ancestry when I’d rather see *more*.

  8. 1500 is the only option we have in Australia, and I think, in most of the world.
    They just don’t offer us anything else.

  9. The family history of corporations can also be interesting, if you will excuse a diversion. Glaxo began as a milk processing company (congrats to Greek speakers who guessed that) serving local dairy producers around Port Fairy, Victoria, Australia from 1929. There is still a milk factory there but it was sold off about 8 years ago. They rapidly went into making powdered milk and baby formula with added vitamins. A merger with an English pharma company eventually led to a later merger with Smith Kline Beecham to form GlaxoSmithKline. Beecham started off selling a cure-all pill that made buckets of money. One son left the family business alone to become a world famous orchestral conductor.
    I first went past the Port Fairy plant way back in 1965. It was slightly inland after a long drive riding shotgun looking down the cliffs on my side of the road, at a time before guard rails (aka Armco). Such a relief to see the shiny stainless steel milk plant and safer roads after that thrashing ocean 100 feet below rolling up from the Antarctic.
    (I think “Port Fairy” was after the tiny fairy penguins in the area.)

  10. In a bit of an irony has I had no interest in genealogy or DNA at that time.
    I use to know a former Chairman of GSK. He was a very nice person. I worked for one of his two sons. He used to say signing a check and managing a large business were not that different, just more zeroes at the end.

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