July 15, 2009

DNA Testing Services Get Cheaper

Genetic testing is being brought to the masses by a young U.S. start-up business full of medical research veterans, with an affordable, comprehensive DNA service for the public.

Pathway Genomics entered a growing direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic testing market with its own laboratory just south of San Diego, California. The laboratory has certification from state and federal agencies.

Genomics promises to bring the most extensive DNA analysis for just $250.

"Our goal is to keep a low cost and make this test available to anyone," Genomics founder and chief executive Jim Plante told AFP.

"I always felt that consumers didn't have direct access to genetic information in a way that was cost effective."

DTC Genetics service, 23andMe, charged $999 for full DNA analysis when it first launched in 2006, but the price has since dropped to $399 as competitors grew in the market.

According to its website Tuesday, complete genetic analysis for health and ancestry from DTC's service, deCODEme, were priced at $985.

Genomics said it keeps costs low and quality high by having an in-house lab.

Genomics offers extensive analysis of an individual's risk for diabetes, Alzheimer's or a myriad of other disease.  Genomics also claims that it can trace people's ancestry back over 150,000 years.

DNA analysis also helps to find what conditions parents might pass to their children.

"We felt it was the right time to put together a service like this," Plante said. "We see our clientele as people very interested in improving health and wellness."

Plante said that Genomics developed a saliva collection kit so all people need to do is "spit in a tube, screw on the cap and drop the tube in a return envelope."

The team of science experts at Genomics is headed by David Becker, who is best known for his role in a 2008 breakthrough in identifying genes that appear to influence risk of Alzheimer's disease.

"We believe that through genetics, you can learn about yourself and take actions to improve your health and reduce your risk," Becker said.

"We look at genetics as one part of the whole person. On our road map is to work very closely with healthcare providers and integrate that into our service."

Genomics will also provide counseling and education to educate and counsel customers as well as doctors about ways lifestyle, heredity and genetics combine to influence health. 

"Evaluating an individual's genetic profile is important, but it only reveals part of a person's health and wellness," Becker said.

"We want our customers to take control of their health by identifying areas in their life that they could change to reduce their risk for developing diseases."

The "risk evaluations" from Genomics include perspectives on people's chances of getting particular diseases compared to the overall population.

Plante said that the firm's website has already received a "high percentage" of orders from Europe, South America and the Middle East.

The firm was launched while government officials decide whether DTC gene testing services should be more strictly controlled to assure people get reliable results and avoid the misuse of DNA information.

Under one adverse scenario, health insurance providers could deny healthy people policies based on medical risks identified by genetic analysis.


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