Personal Genome Management–the next big thing? by Matthew Holt

There are 160m Americans looking for health information online and somewhere in the realm of 10–30% of those are viewing and creating their own content. But that has made moderate impact on the mainstream press (with Laura Landro being an honorable exception). So it was a little  surprising to see both the WSJ and the NY Times feature a related issue in the last week—online genetic screening.

Suddenly the concept of getting your genome tested and laid out online is really hot. 23andme (with its Google connection and Esther Dyson on the board) and Navigenics (with Kleiner Perkins and MDV as blue chip VCs in a $25m round) are the two best known west coast players. 23andme has already found out that Warren and Jimmy Buffet are not related and you can go to their site and sign up for their service for under $1,000. (And learn lots more about it in this Wired article) But they’re not alone. In Boston, Knome is gearing up for something similar and Icelandic company DeCODE genetics, which already has a database with the island’s entire population in it, has also introduced a similar service called DeCodeMe.

And of course there’s The Personal Genome Project. It’s an effort led by George Church and includes 10 people who are putting all their genetic information online. (One is Esther Dyson of course)

Meanwhile, plenty of other companies are doing genetic testing mostly on genealogy grounds. The Genetic Genealogist Blog estimates that some 600,000 tests have been done and they are worth about $300 each. but for an annual market, that’s only $25m. The Genetic Genealogist Blog also has a long list of those genetic companies.

Finally, while there’s all this excitement about doing comprehensive DNA testing, DNADirect has been offering a direct to consumer service for a couple of years which offers the most common tests. You can see their price list here. One estimate which seems in the ball park is that the total market for that testing is $200m.

But let’s hang on a minute. The genetic test market is very small, and the management services that these companies offer around it are going to only be a share of the testing market itself. So the fact that Navigenics has already raised money at a substantial valuation means that some very astute people are thinking that genetic testing will turn from an occasional activity for a small minority of patients (usually those going into pregnancy with some type of risk factor) into a consumer norm that most patients will have as part of the standard testing they get done. And that management of that genetic information will be part of the new flow of consumer and clinician activity.

This is a big bet indeed. Of course there is no real current consumer DNA health management market. Frankly the consumer disease management and the personal health advocacy markets barely exist yet either. And the genetic testing/personal medicine market of course has even greater potential, but also is much harder to achieve.

So we’ll see. Are 60 million baby boomers ready to integrate genetics into their personal medical records? And are they ready to both pay for it (or get their third party intermediaries to do so)? And is the health care system ready for the consequences. If so, we’re into a revolutionary period. If not, well I think we know the short term outcome.

Matthew Holt

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *