Dean Schorno was the CFO at a biotech firm when his wife was diagnosed with breast cancer. Suddenly, his work took on new meaning.
The former Arthur Anderson accountant turned self-employed consultant had entered biotech when scientists were completing the mapping of the human genome. He worked as VP of Operations and CFO at Genomic Health, where he oversaw the launch of the company’s clinical laboratory, then as CFO of Adaptive Biotechnologies. In his roles, he witnessed how doctors targeted treatment for specific patients with breast, colon, and other cancers.
“With new technology and precision medicine we can look at an individual’s tumor or blood and know how to better treat them,” says Schorno. “One in eight women will have breast cancer. My wife was the one in eight, so this is personal and important to me.”
Schorno’s wife is doing well, and now Schorno is continuing his quest to use genetic information to improve wellness in his role as CFO and head of operations for 23andMe. The direct-to-consumer genetics company is known for its “spit kit.” By submitting a saliva sample to 23andMe’s lab, customers can learn what their genes (on their 23 pairs of chromosomes) reveal about their ancestry and personal traits. But Schorno sees the kit not as a novelty but as a way to change the future of medical science.
In October 2015, the company launched the first and only direct-to-consumer genetic test that meets FDA standards. “The mission to help people access, understand, and benefit from the genome is alive here,” Schorno says.
Collaborating with pharmaceutical companies and academic institutions, 23andMe has used its wealth of DNA data to conduct studies on lupus, Parkinson’s disease, and other ailments with possible genetic roots.
“The personal testimonies have been incredibly rewarding,” says Schorno. “These things impact all our lives.”