Fueled by a belief that widespread public demand for access to personal genomic information will grow in coming years, two firms entered the nascent consumer genomics space this month, both using microarrays in their services.
Last week, SeqWright, a Houston, Texas-based contract genomics firm and certified Affymetrix service provider, launched its Genomic Profiling Service, which uses an Affymetrix array to provide customers with their own personal genomic database to help infer the risk of developing specific diseases as well as access to genealogical information.
Earlier this month, Konstanz, Germany-based GATC Biotech formed a subsidiary called LifeCode to provide a similar service to European Union residents. According to the firm, the LifeCode service, which also uses microarrays, will be available in the EU in three languages — German, English, and French — by April.
The launch of these services follows the debut last year of three similar services. November saw the launch of personal genetics services by Navigenics, which uses an Affy platform; 23andMe, which is working with Illumina; and DeCode Genetics, which has not divulged the name of its platform provider (see BAN 11/20/2007).
All five of the firms differ on how much they charge for their service, what degree of counseling they offer their clients, and from what regional markets they will accept orders. However, they are all chasing the same idea that the market for genotyping includes everybody.
“It’s still very much speculative, so it’s hard to say how big the market is,” said SeqWright spokesperson Marc Dantone. “But I do believe [personal genomics] has a lot of movement behind it and we do believe it’s a beneficial service.”
Dantone told BioArray News last week that SeqWright decided to enter the market because as an Affy service provider, it already was equipped to position itself for early entry into the consumer genomics space.
“From a personal standpoint we think it can truly benefit the population. From a business standpoint it makes sense to us because we have the platforms in place to supply the data,” he said. “To combine the two together it just makes sense.”
SeqWright’s service costs $998. Customers order a kit and mail a saliva sample to the company, which analyzes it using Affymetrix’s platform. Customers will then be able to view their results online, which will include correlation to associations for 16 diseases.
Furthermore, SeqWright will provide customers with a comparison of genetic markers to European, East Asian, and West African populations, as well as an option for adults to compare genetic markers between consenting family members to reveal how genetic traits were inherited in the family.
“Arrays are the most cost-effective [platform] for this kind of thing. Everyone is pushing for the $100,000 genome, but we’re not there yet.”
Of the five firms that have entered the market so far, most have chosen not to offer direct counseling and to compete with a price tag of around $1,000. Only Redwood Shores, Calif.-based Navigenics offers direct genetic counseling, a service component that allows the firm to command $2,500 for its service (see BAN 11/13/2007).
Dantone said that SeqWright had decided to not offer genetic counseling, but will look to put its analysis in the context of contemporary scientific discoveries by providing customers with their genetic information so that “they can have it in their records and compare data for themselves.”
He added that he expects more competitors to join the market, and when they do, they, too will probably opt to use arrays in their service models rather than next-generation sequencing instruments.
“Arrays are the most cost-effective [platform] for this kind of thing,” Dantone said. “Everyone is pushing for the $100,000 genome, but we’re not there yet.”
Arrays will also be the platform of choice for LifeCode, the recently formed subsidiary of GATC Biotech, even though the company’s eventual plan is to offer customers a full human genome scan provided by a next-gen sequencer, according to a company official.
Chief Operating Officer Marcus Benz told BioArray News this week that GATC is “absolutely convinced that over time full human-genome sequencing will be available as a service,” but that the company will use arrays in the short term to provide genetic information to its customers.
LifeCode currently is still evaluating platforms for the service, which will launch in the second quarter. “There are two big platforms right now, Affy and Illumina, and we are evaluating these,” he said. “It will be on chips for the beginning. It is the most cost-effective way if you want to cover a large amount of SNPs in your analysis.”
LifeCode is also in the process of forming a medical advisory board that will determine for which diseases its service will assess genetic risk. The company may work with medical experts in one disease area, such as oncology, to provide customers with a risk for certain cancers with preventative care through affiliated physicians. LifeCode has not discussed pricing for its service, but Benz said that it will be comparable to other services on the market.
The company is also advertising itself as the personal genomics shop for the European Union. 23andMe, which is based in Mountain View, Calif., last week made its service available in Canada and Europe, following its US launch in November. DeCode Genetics, based in Iceland, is also soliciting samples from LifeCode’s home market.
Still, Benz said that LifeCode, upon launch, will be the “only one in the European Union” to offer personal genetics services, and will also be launching the service in German, French, and English — a factor that the firm believes will help to develop the market. “We have found out that it is very useful if the customer receives the information in his or her native tongue,” said Benz.
Like SeqWright, LifeCode does not have an estimate of the market size for personal genomics services. Benz admitted that there is a “huge discrepancy between scientific knowledge and the knowledge of the general public” but that he believes the gap will be closed in coming years to the benefit of services like LifeCode.
“We strongly believe that this will be the future and that by talking to the scientific community, it’s always pointing in this direction,” he said. “This is just a starting point.”