NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – Israeli startup KolGene is establishing a global digital marketplace for genetic testing services where clinicians can search for and request specific tests, and clinical laboratories can respond online with offers to provide the testing.
"We connect clinicians with genetic labs on a global scale," said Dan Faszczyk, KolGene's CEO and one of its cofounders. "By simplifying the process, we want to make genetic testing accessible and affordable to serve many patients out there that can benefit."
Faszczyk, who has longstanding experience in marketing and sales for molecular diagnostics, including several years with Pronto Diagnostics, a genetic testing provider in Israel, said he noticed that physicians from more and more specialties — including oncologists, cardiologists, neurologists, pediatricians, and ophthalmologists — have started to order genetic tests for their patients, and that demand for such testing in general has been increasing.
On the provider side, he said, the number of labs offering genetic testing has been growing, some specializing in certain clinical areas — such as hereditary cancer or noninvasive prenatal testing — and others offering tests that run the gamut from single-gene tests to gene panels, whole-exome sequencing, and whole-genome sequencing.
"Clinicians need assistance, a platform to navigate through all the different offerings that are out there," Faszczyk said.
As a result, he and Yonatan Levin, a software developer, and Eyal Gura, an entrepreneur, cofounded KolGene in April of 2016. So far, the company, which is based in Herzliya, just north of Tel Aviv, has been funded by angel investors, with its biggest investment coming from equity crowdfunding firm OurCrowd. While the amount of funding remains undisclosed, "we now have the resources to reach out to more and more labs and clinicians around the world," Faszczyk said.
Last summer, KolGene launched its digital software platform initially as a mobile app, though it plans to release a web-based interface with additional features later this month. Both clinicians and testing labs can sign up and download the app free of charge.
The platform lets clinicians place a request for a genetic test, which could be as general as asking for a cardiomyopathy panel, or as specific as requesting a panel that includes a certain gene. Customers can also specify turnaround time, a lab's regulatory certifications, or a lab's location in a certain area or country, which is mandatory in some countries. Physicians can request any type of genetic test, Faszczyk said, including NIPT, but the company currently focuses on other sequencing-based tests.
Labs that sign up with KolGene then get notified about the request and can respond to it, making the clinician — whose identity they do not know — a customized offer, which no one else can see, that includes pricing as well as a sample report. Faszczyk said clinicians often receive better prices through Kolgene than they would if they interacted with a lab directly.
Based on the offers they get, clinicians can then place an order for the test. Once testing has been performed and the lab receives payment, KolGene gets paid a percentage for its service from the lab. The company will also ship the samples for an additional cost.
The service will allow clinicians to spend more time with their patients, Faszczyk said, "instead of spending hours and days looking for genetic labs, comparing the offers, communicating with them back and forth." It also allows institutions to manage their send-out activity and relationships with labs in one place. KolGene's biggest user to date, for example, is an undisclosed HMO that uses the firm's platform to communicate with genetic testing providers. "If you manage all of that activity in one place, you can see all the prices, you can monitor the dynamic of the prices, you can see the history," he said.
Diagnostic labs, on the other hand, can increase their geographic reach without having to hire more sales reps or stepping up their marketing. They can also monitor the demand for certain types of tests and adapt their offerings accordingly. "For labs, this is a partnership," Faszczyk. "Other than just connecting them with clinicians, using KolGene, they have a direct and unique view of the demand for genetic testing from everywhere in the world."
"With this application, you are able to extend your footprint and compete in markets with the touch of a button," said Marcos Gonzales, an advisor to KolGene. A genetic counselor by training who has worked for Sequenom, Gonzales, currently with Human Longevity, said that when the website Genetest.org launched more than a decade ago, providing an online catalog of genetic tests, it was "a real sea change" for clinicians. "I think that KolGene has that same kind of sea change potential."
So far, "in the tens" of genetic testing labs have signed up with KolGene, including labs in North America, Europe, and Asia, and their number keeps growing, Faszczyk said. Among them are academic and hospital laboratories, as well as commercial laboratories, including Invitae and Color Genomics.
But the firm still has work to do to get its name out: several established genetic diagnostic laboratories in the US and in Germany said they had either not heard of KolGene or had not yet signed up with them. For its part, KolGene — Faszczyk said "kol" means both "all" and "voice" or "sound" in Hebrew — is scheduled to present its services at a number of genetics conferences this year, starting later this month at the American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics annual meeting in Phoenix.
On the clinician side, the mobile app has been downloaded several hundred times so far, Faszczyk said, by individual clinicians, clinics and hospitals, HMOs, and others. The service could also be used by laboratories seeking to outsource certain tests, he said. While he did not disclose how many tests have been ordered through KolGene, Faszczyk said that the number of test requests has been growing "in large digits" every month. Also, clinicians currently receive four offers on average for each request.
Eyal Reinstein, director of the Medical Genetics Institute at Meir Medical Center, said that he has found KolGene's platform to be a useful tool. "Instead of calling local labs or the representative of international labs, I simply type in what test I need into the app and get offers," usually within minutes, he said. "KolGene supports the logistics side of sending the sample, which is a big help, and the prices are better than those offered by other channels."
The company is not without competitors. Gendia of Belgium, for example, has been facilitating services between clinicians and genetic testing laboratories for more than a decade. The company also provides doctors with pre- and post-test counseling services to help them choose the right test for their patients, something KolGene doesn't currently offer but plans to add to its service in the future.
Likewise, NextGxDx of Franklin, Tennessee, which launched in 2010 and recently changed its name to Concert Genetics, aims to increase the transparency and efficiency of genetic testing for clinicians, hospitals, laboratories, and health insurers, according to its website. In 2012, the firm launched a web-based physician portal that lets doctors search for, compare, and order genetic tests. Labs pay a fee to be included in the service and for each test ordered.
Faszczyk said KolGene wants to set itself apart from these competitors by providing a transparent management platform that allows clinicians and laboratories to interact directly with each other. That ensures offers are up to date and reflect the dynamics of the genetic testing market, where labs sometimes make changes to panels, turnaround times, and reports on a daily basis. "There is no other solution that has all that in one place," he said.