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Geisinger National Experts Join Genome Medical to Help Implement Population Genomics Programs

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SANTA CLARA – Telegenetics firm Genome Medical and experts from the discontinued Geisinger National Precision Health Initiative are teaming up to help health systems implement population genomics programs.

Geisinger National was launched in 2017 by leaders at Geisinger Health who wanted to take their experience of implementing a large-scale population genomics initiative within the Pennsylvania-based health system and help other health systems around the country do the same in their communities. Although Geisinger National wound down in 2019, its leaders have now joined Genome Medical to advance their vision of scaling genomics-informed care to health systems nationwide.

At the Personalized Medicine World Conference here this week, Genome Medical CEO Lisa Alderson said the company, which has largely been known as a provider of telegenetics services, will now also be providing strategic advice to health systems looking to integrate genetics into the primary care setting. "With the addition of Geisinger National's team, we go one step further and can now work with hospitals and health systems in helping to design broader population-based genomics programs," said Alderson, who founded the company in 2016 with Randy Scott, executive chairman of genetic testing company Invitae, and Robert Green, a geneticist at Brigham and Women's Hospital.

Genome Medical also announced today that geneticist Huntington Willard, one of the founders of Geisinger National, will serve as its CSO and senior VP of medical affairs. Two other former Geisinger National colleagues will also join Genome Medical's leadership team: Erica Ramos, who is a past president of the National Society of Genetic Counselors, will be VP of population genomics, and Beth Denne will direct education and engagement.

"We will continue to share our knowledge with other health systems around the country, but I am convinced that this mission can best be accomplished from a base in industry, rather than a base in one particular health system," Willard said. "Genome Medical offers that opportunity."

According to Willard, the plan with Geisinger National was always to transition out of the health system within two to three years and form a new company or join an existing company. After six months of vetting companies, Genome Medical's mission aligned best with Geisinger National's vision, and the decision was made to close down the Geisinger National unit at the end of 2019, "with [the health system's] full support," he said.

As CSO, Willard will ensure that the population genomics programs being designed under Genome Medical's guidance will have a sound evidence base. "I think of this as the equivalent of an 'entrepreneur-in-residence' position," he said over e-mail.

With Willard, Ramos, and Denne on Genome Medical's team, the company is now "looking to work with health systems [on] strategy, clinical work flow, developing protocols," said Alderson.

Genome Medical also employs more than 50 clinicians who can provide virtual care in all 50 states across six specialty areas. This network of medical geneticists and genetic counselors will be able to educate patients and providers who are part of the firm's healthcare system partners through its cloud-based platform, as well as coordinate testing and facilitate return of results.

The company launched a platform, called Genome Care Delivery, last October aimed at providing virtual genetics expertise, education, and clinical support to its hospital, healthcare system, and employer clients. More specifically, through the platform, patients and doctors can access educational videos and webinars on how genetic testing impacts care. Genome Medical's medical geneticists, meanwhile, can virtually assess whether patients are at increased risk of a genetic condition and provide them and their doctors a clinical action plan based on test results, guidelines, and family history. 

Since its launch four years ago, Genome Medical's growth has tracked with market trends in genomics. In its early days, right around the time the consumer genomics industry was experiencing a resurgence with the launch of Helix's app marketplace, Genome Medical began offering patients and physicians virtual access to its network of clinical genomics experts for $149, expecting that these clients would need help making sense of test results they received online. 

However, since then, as the use of genetic testing has continued to increase, so has the need for genomics expertise among a variety of stakeholders, including payors, employers, and, in particular, healthcare systems. Many of them have turned to Genome Medical for telegenetics support. For example, Cigna began using Genome Medical's virtual counseling services in 2018, and last year, when Renown Health in Nevada began returning actionable genetics findings to patients as part of its population health study, it looked to Genome Medical for counseling patients as well.

In 2019, healthcare systems increasingly began investing in population genomics efforts, engaging the services of companies like Color and Helix. Genome Medical, now with in-house expertise from Geisinger National, is hoping to position itself to compete in this space, and differentiate itself by providing health systems an end-to-end solution for implementing population genomics in a more manageable way, said Alderson.

For example, Genome Medical will provide partners with a "gap analysis" to assess their areas of need and outline the investments they need to make to launch a population health program. Once the needs are identified, Genome Medical can help design and implement the programs. However, with more projects under its belt, the firm ultimately hopes to shorten the planning cycles for these projects, "which have been quite long," Alderson said. Sometimes, she noted, it can take health systems more than a year to enroll the first patient.

Genome Medical, which has raised $46 million in funding to date, has been gearing up for an expansion of this kind. The company more than doubled its team last year, according to Alderson, and now employs 60 clinicians. Last quarter, the company hired six genetic counselors and this quarter, the company hopes to hire another five.

"The interest in the market is expanding, so we want to have more resources available to support those programs," Alderson said. While she declined to disclose which health systems are currently working with Genome Medical, she indicated that a number of projects are in the planning phase.

Most of these efforts are on a smaller scale, testing out genomics implementation in 1,000 to 2,500 patients for the span of a year. "That's largely to work through the nuances of workflows, return of results, educational materials, physician training," she said. "After that initial implementation, the goal is really to expand and grow."

Some health systems are looking to implement tests for the genetic conditions that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found are poorly assessed, including hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndrome, familial hypercholesterolemia, and Lynch syndrome. Other healthcare systems are interested in implementing broader screening programs. "These models are either [focused on testing] many patients with a smaller set of information, or start with a few patients, but look at a lot of information," Alderson said. "It's hard to go out to a lot of people with a lot of information. You have to step toward that goal." 

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