NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – Genesis Healthcare, a Tokyo-based provider of consumer genomics and clinical tests to the Japanese market, recently moved to the Affymetrix platform to support its offerings.
Iri Sato-Baran, president and chief strategy and research officer at Genesis Healthcare, told BioArray News that her company had used Illumina arrays in the past, but decided to adopt a custom Affymetrix-made Axiom genotyping array for diverse reasons earlier this year.
"Affymetrix microarray technology is more stable thus allowing better results," Sato-Baran said. "With [Illumina] chips, certain SNPs that have certain characteristics tend to have no calls, so we had to resequence or use individual probes to make sure the results were correct."
"With the Axiom technology, it gives perfect results, very stable and consistent," she added. "Japanese customers expect perfect results and Axiom technology delivers that."
Founded in 2004, Genesis Healthcare conducts internal research and offers research services and genetic testing to others, serving clients in academia, at companies, and in the clinic, as we as consumers. The company's internal research efforts have fueled its services, though. "Via our own research and testing and through our whole-genome database, we already mapped Japanese and Asian population-specific SNPs, which allows us to tailor our test to the Japanese and Asian population," said Sato-Baran.
In December 2012, it unveiled GeneLife, a ¥29,800 ($290) test for predisposition to various genetic diseases and conditions, including allergies, ability to metabolize alcohol, diabetes, and obesity, as well as skin type for cosmetics. And in September 2013, Genesis Healthcare rolled out its GWAS Cancer Genetic Test Kit, which is targeted to the medical community and used to assess an individual's risk for 27 cancers.
Both of the tests were moved to the Axiom platform earlier this year.
While gaining Genesis Healthcare as a client is an obvious win for Affymetrix, the nature of Genesis Healthcare's business has broader strategic implications. To date, Illumina has dominated the consumer genomics space, being the vendor for the majority of services in the US and Europe, including Ancestry.com, Family Tree DNA, National Geographic's Genographic Project, ScotlandsDNA, 23andMe, and others.
Navigenics, an early entrant into the space, had used Affymetrix arrays in its HealthCompass offering, but the service has been discontinued, and Life Technologies acquired Navigenics and its CLIA-compliant laboratory in 2012. As the main technology provider to Genesis Healthcare, Affymetrix has broadened its position in the consumer genomics space, and in a market that Sato-Baran said the Japanese Ministry of Economics, Trade, and Industry estimates will grow to $3 billion in size during the next five years.
Interest from adults in their thirties and forties is driving that growth. Sato-Baran said that 80 percent of customers have been early adopters in this demographic who have a very "high interest in staying healthy and high awareness in preventing lifestyle diseases such as obesity and diabetes." Not only do Genesis Healthcare's clients want to know their propensity and their genetic risks, but they also want to know how to prevent or circumvent developing the diseases, she said. "So, not only do we offer the genetic tests, we also provide preventive information."
Genesis Healthcare has also tapped some unique resources to sell its tests, including a promotional partnership with Yahoo! Japan, a Japanese Internet web portal that Sato-Baran claimed is more popular than Google in that country. The firm's tests are also available at convenience stores and via the televised home shopping channel QVC Japan.
In addition to working with Yahoo! Japan, QVC Japan, and various stores, Genesis Healthcare is also working with MTI, the largest mobile content provider in Japan that provides content for music, health, lifestyle, and entertainment via mobile phones.
"As a testing company, we can utilize their app to deliver the genetic test results and related information," said Sato-Baran. "There are so many wearables around. Why not incorporate genetic test results into these to deliver results and information?"
Such ubiquitous access to tests with health-related content has prompted comparisons to 23andMe's situation in the US, where the Mountain View, Calif.-based firm suspended the personal health-related portion of its service after receiving a warning letter from the US Food and Drug Administration last year.
According to Sato-Baran, there is no specific regulatory framework in place in Japan for genetic tests. At the same time, any genetic testing must follow government guidelines, and Genesis Healthcare "worked very closely with the Japanese government" to ensure it does not "disrupt confidence in the market" as it offers GeneLife.
"We created a fine line for ourselves in identifying which [SNPs] are preventive and which ones are for diagnostics and medical use," she said of the firm's market entry. "We stay away from diagnostics and medical use in our consumer genetic tests."