Russian billionaire invests in US genetics company

Posted at 12/12/2012 10:25 AM | Updated as of 12/12/2012 10:25 AM

SAN FRANCISCO - Russian billionaire Yuri Milner, best-known for investments linking consumers to the Internet, is placing a bet on genetics.

Milner, who backed companies ranging from Facebook Inc to gaming company Zynga Inc, has led a $50 million funding round into 23andMe, a Mountain View, California, company that helps people decipher their genetic makeup.

His investment could shine a spotlight on biotechnology startups, which have taken a backseat in visibility to sectors like cloud computing and Internet services targeted at consumers.

23andMe, named for the 23 pairs of chromosomes that make up each person's genome, also announced a price drop for its saliva-based test, to $99 from $299.

For that price, consumers learn specifics about ancestry and genetic traits, including the possible conditions and diseases to which they may have a genetic propensity.

Existing investors joining the funding round include Anne Wojcicki, 23andMe's chief executive; Sergey Brin, Wojcicki's husband and co-founder of Google Inc ; New Enterprise Associates; Google Ventures; and MPM Capital.

The company's last funding round was about $31 million, raised two years ago. Since its founding in 2006, 23andMe has raised about $68 million.

Biotechnology has fostered some hefty investment exits recently. On Monday, Amgen Inc said it would pay $415 million for Iceland-based Decode Genetics.