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Pathway's Deal with OptumHealth Yields Lowest-Priced Gene Scans in DTC Genomics Industry

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By Turna Ray

By partnering with
the discount health services provider OptumHealth Allies, Pathway Genomics will be able to offer the lowest prices in the direct-to-consumer genomics market for a health and ancestry gene scan.

Under the partnership, OptumHealth Allies' 15 million members will now have access to Pathway Genomics' health and ancestry gene scans at a 20 percent discount. For example, for Pathway's $99 breast cancer test, an OptumHealth member will pay $79. For Pathway's full health and ancestry gene scan package, which normally costs $348, OptumHealth consumers will pay $278.

OptumHealth Allies claims to offer its members between 10-percent and 50-percent discounts on medical and wellness products. Their discounts are available to those members who usually sign up through their employee-provided health-insurance plans, but the program is also available to underinsured and uninsured consumers. The discounts are meant to reduce customers' out-of-pocket costs for health and wellness products for vision, dental, and fitness.

Most national insurers currently maintain that gene scans offered by DTC genomics firms, such as Pathway Genomics, do not appear to improve medical outcomes or reduce healthcare costs. As such, consumers who choose to learn about their genetic risk for diseases and gene-response to certain drugs do so at their own cost.

For consumers who are not members of OptumHealth Allies, Pathway Genomics sells its Health Test scan for $299, which gauges an individual’s genetic risk for more than 90 diseases and characterizes the gene-related response to various drugs, including anticoagulants and antidepressants. The ancestry test, which gauged more than 1,000 maternal and 200 paternal haplogroups, costs $199.

Until Pathway launched this year, 23andMe offered the lowest price points in the DTC genomics market. However, 23andMe plans to raise the price of its combined ancestry and health gene-scan package this week from $399 to $499, a decision it attributed to the ongoing economic challenges. The ancestry edition alone will cost $399, while the health edition, which tests consumers' genetic risk for more than 119 conditions, will run $425.

23anMe refused to comment on why it increased the price of its services.

Meanwhile, Navigenics' complete SNP-genotyping service costs $999 and a paired down version, offering genetic predisposition data for 10 common health conditions, costs $499.

Another vendor, DecodeMe, charges $985 for its full service, which provides the genetic risk for 42 conditions. The DecodeMe Cancer Scan, which includes the genetic risk for seven cancers, costs $225, while the shop’s Cardio Scan, which tests for the genetic predisposition to cardiovascular events such as heart attack and atrial fibrillation, costs $195.

New Hope Medical, a clinic that provides “diagnostics and therapies not readily available in conventional medicine,” offers genomic testing for between 12 and 25 SNPs linked to certain conditions for between $475 and $900. Knome's full genome scans cost $350,000. Illumina's whole genome sequencing service costs $48,000.

Overall, the price of gene scans offered by consumer genomics firms have been going down due to technological advancements in gene analyses platforms.
A year ago, when 23andMe upgraded from Illumina's single-sample BeadChip platform to the new HumanHap550-Quad+ platform, it lowered its gene scan price from $999 to $399. At the time, 23andMe attributed the price drop to technological advancements with its analysis platform that enables faster analysis of a greater number of SNPs, including rare mutations [see PGx Reporter 09-12-2008].

Similarly, Navigenics last year cut the price of its comprehensive genetic-screening service by 60 percent, from $2,500 to $999.

However, the economic downturn appears to be causing DTC genomics service prices to fluctuate. Adding to the industry’s ongoing challenge is the fact that since many healthcare providers and payors do not consider these gene scans medically necessary, most consumers are likely to forgo such pricey services during financial hardships.

The increase in 23andMe's offerings follows an announcement that the company is laying off some of its staff due to pressure from the difficult economy. The Google-backed firm did not offer additional details; the company, which is privately held, has never publicized revenue data [see PGx Reporter 11-04-2009].

Other DTC genomics firms have also been hit by the tough economy. In August, TruGenetics added a notice to its website saying it had stopped accepting new registrations for its genome scanning services as it works to raise money to fund its operations. The company launched earlier this year offering 10,000 free gene scans, the data from which would be used in pharmacogenetics research.

Decode Genetics, parent company of DecodeMe, has also been struggling to stay afloat for some time. This week, the Icelandic diagnostics firm filed a voluntary petition for Chapter 11 protection in the US. Simultaneously, Decode said it had received an offer by Saga Investments to purchase its Icelandic subsidiary, Islensk Erfdagreining. “IE, which is not declaring bankruptcy, carries out all of Decode’s human genetics work and provides deCODEme,” the company informed its customers in a statement.

When Pathway Genomics launched earlier this year, the company was offering genotyping and analysis for disease risk and heredity for under $250. According to the company's website, the health risk scan is now priced at a 20 percent premium ($299). However, with the 20 percent discount under the deal with OptumHealth Allies, members would pay under $240.

"The advantage is really for the consumer. Our partnership with OptumHealth Allies is a great way for us to work with a leading health management organization to offer people a personalized approach for their health and wellness," a Pathway Genomics spokesperson said.

According to the spokesperson, Pathway is exploring other partnership opportunities similar to that with OptumHealth Allies, which will offer additional price advantages over competitors. The spokesperson did not elaborate.

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