Perhaps a bit of sanity enters. Ancestry, the largest vendor of home-based tests for genetic testing to trace ancestry and seek health information, announced layoffs of 6 percent, or about 100 people, from its Utah and California offices. This follows on post-New Year layoffs at chief rival 23andMe of 14 percent of its staff, also about 100 people.
The slowdown in the consumer appeal of genetic testing is apparently across the board. While one hears of genetic tests being given for holidays and birthdays, there is little repeat need. The market was easily saturated: the early adopters have done their testing; the second wave of consumers which normalize a technology now are increasingly aware of and have privacy concerns about their genetic information being misused. This Editor would add a lingering wave of silly TV and online commercials with wide-eyed folks imagining their connection to ancient royalty or swapping out lederhosen for kilts after their testing report comes back.
The bright spot for both companies is where they were really heading–healthcare data. AncestryHealth is not being cut back. As previously noted, GSK owns half of 23andme.
This Editor in 2018 advocated a Genomic Bill of Rights where before testing, a genetics testing client would be told how their genomic data is being used and being protected, informed about de-identification, and easily able to opt-out of commercial use. And the revelations about matching to others in the database or health revelations should be done not only with circumspection and respect for the disruption which may happen in the client’s life, but also held to the highest standard of testing. Sometimes that discovery is the equivalent of tossing a hand grenade into a person’s life. There also hasn’t been a lot said about making de-identifiable data identifiable through the ‘nefarious use’ of genomic data sets available through research networks.
DNA is being used for so much advanced medicine and even home testing (example–Cologuard in the US for colon cancer). It’s regrettable that the most public face of genetic testing rests with two companies whose main sell on your past and health has had unintended consequences, and whose main chance lies in the sale of their consumer data. The Verge, CNBC
Nearly two years after the FDA shut the door on 23andMe‘s direct marketing of genetic testing, it is now back in the market with FDA clearance. The new Personal Genome Service (PGS) now meets FDA standards–and is now $199 where it was previously $99. It is as before a saliva-based test that in about two months, provides that person with an online report. There are multiple types, for instance the carrier status test on 36 inherited conditions, including cystic fibrosis and sickle cell anemia. The company is also bolstered by closing a $115 million round this month and in January a partnership with Pfizer to sell the company its Research Portal aggregated, anonymized data. Earlier this year, FDA cleared in Class II their Bloom Syndrome test [TTA 20 Feb] and late last year resumed DTC test marketing in the UK. Mobihealthnews also includes a helpful timeline of 23andMe’s troubles and recovery.
Breaking news: Foot in door? Crack in the wall? This week’s Big News among the genomics enthusiasts among the healthdigerati is that 23andMe finally got one test through FDA, for Bloom Syndrome where the gene is carried by both parents, and now can freely sell the kits. Much is being made of wording in the press release from a major FDA executive as opening the door:
“The FDA believes that in many circumstances it is not necessary for consumers to go through a licensed practitioner to have direct access to their personal genetic information. Today’s authorization and accompanying classification, along with FDA’s intent to exempt these devices from FDA premarket review, supports innovation and will ultimately benefit consumers,” said Alberto Gutierrez, Ph.D., director of the Office of In Vitro Diagnostics and Radiological Health in the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health. “These tests have the potential to provide people with information about possible mutations in their genes that could be passed on to their children.”
But far more of a startling admission by FDA is that 1) these genetic screening kits are now classified as Class II and 2) they intend to exempt them from the arduous pre-market review that is in Class III:
Along with this authorization, the FDA is also classifying carrier screening tests as class II. In addition, the FDA intends to exempt these devices from FDA premarket review. The agency plans to issue a notice that announces the intent to exempt these tests and that provides a 30-day period for public comment. This action creates the least burdensome regulatory path for autosomal recessive carrier screening tests with similar uses to enter the market.
There will be much more; this article by Chris Seper in MedCityNews is an excellent recap. Our articles previously in TTA.
Would one of our UK readers expand our knowledge on these kits’ regulatory status in the UK and EU? According to the MedCityNews article, the UK permits 23andMe’s genetic testing, but is vague on the details (CE approval?)
In a reversal from the ‘¡No pasarán!’ (‘They shall not pass!’) position 23andme and its QS fans famously took back in the winter and spring [TTA 2 Apr, with prior links] vis-a-vis FDA on interpretation of genetic tests, this report from VentureBeat indicates that 23andme is holding out an olive branch. It’s not your usual cutting. It’s an application for Bloom’s Syndrome, a rare inherited genetic disorder, which FDA just accepted. Adding to it is that CEO Anne Wojcicki is a carrier of this disorder. VentureBeat’s speculation is that if successful, the Bloom’s Syndrome application would be the template for future test applications. The tone on both sides has grown conciliatory. For example: sitting on the same Congressional panel on healthcare last Tuesday was an FDA physician directly involved in the approval situation and Ms Wojcicki. There was a well-timed, quite emollient interview with Ms Wojcicki in the Wall Street Journal this past weekend. Certainly a factor is that 23andme is still growing, but less quickly–up 150,000 from its pre-FDA contretemps level of 550,000. And its funders, even though closely related to Ms Wojcicki, hate to wait on numbers which are certainly below projections.
Genetic testing company 23andMe seems to be in no rush to resolve its differences with the FDA, and the digitalhealtherati a/k/a D3H (Digital Health Hypester Horde) are wondering why. In late November, 23andMe executives undoubtedly had a depressing Thanksgiving when the FDA ordered them to stop providing health reports (interpretation of genetic results) and marketing kits. Four months later, 23andMe continues to sell its kits for $99, providing only raw genetic data and ancestry reports–and according to its 31 March blog posting, will do so for the foreseeable future as they complete the regulatory review process. The blog quoted CEO and co-founder Anne Wojcicki, “My main priority is resolution with the FDA,” but actions speak louder than words–and the FDA isn’t talking. The FDA standard is still validation–the company has to analytically and clinically validate 23andMe for its intended uses, which is why the FDA took action against them in the first place.
- Is the lack of urgency more about continuing to gather raw genetic and health data unimpeded? Ms Wojcicki had widely stated her real aim was to build a 25-million-strong database (Fast Company).
- Is the real revenue stream of the company not the kits but in monetizing a massive database, selling it to researchers and others (Matthew Herper in Forbes)–the Google model which Ms Wojcicki is quite familiar with? Consider that there’s $126 million into the company, that is a lot of $99 kits.
Most companies in this situation would be imploding. This one is not. Interestingly. FierceMedicalDevices, The Verge
Previously in TTA: all you ever wanted to know about the 23andMe kerfuffle in FDA tells 23andMe genomic test to stop marketing (including this Editor’s analysis of their pre-FDA website with copy breathlessly expressing potentially life-saving or critical lifestyle changing claims, countered by legal ‘educational use’ boilerplate) and The inevitable: class action lawsuit against 23andMe (a check of the Ankcorn blog has no updates)
Quantified Selfers and the D3H (Digital Health Hypester Horde) are in a swivet. This past Friday, FDA slammed the door shut on the 23andMe Personal Genome Service (PGS) saliva test. This past summer, the company broadly marketed to US consumers, including a TV campaign [Charles Lowe, TTA 7 Aug]. The FDA cease-and-desist letter cites that 23andMe never provided requested data on their July and September 510(k) filings, which are now ‘considered withdrawn’, and cites that “after these many interactions with 23andMe, we still do not have any assurance that the firm has analytically or clinically validated the PGS for its intended uses, which have expanded from the uses that the firm identified in its submissions.” The danger is that people will make medical decisions based on the testing information and that the results produced may be faulty. It appears from FierceHealthcare that the kit has actually been marketed for five years. According to MedCityNews, it is backed by Google Ventures (the CEO/co-founder is the estranged wife of Google head Sergey Brin), New Enterprise Associates, MPM Capital and the Moscow billionaire Yuri Milner. A private citizen is petitioning the White House to overrule the FDA (as if that extra-legal move would be possible, but who knows with the influence of the Googlesphere?) and states that the agency ‘grossly overstates the risks’ (also MedCityNews). As of 2 Dec there are 3,306 signatures of the 100,000 needed; one suspects this administration has bigger slices of uncooked turkey on its plate such as Obamacare and a kind-of-achieved 30 Nov deadline on Healthcare.gov, which is now clearly seen as just one problem.
The 23andMe website is still fully up and still selling kits.
Editor Donna sorts through the noise for possible reasons why: (more…)