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Telegenomics Startup Genome Medical Launches Genetic Consultation Network, Plans Service Expansion

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NEW YORK (GenomeWeb) – Dubbing itself a "telegenomics company," Bay Area startup Genome Medical announced the launch this week of its genetic consultation services offering, providing physicians and patients access to its network of clinical genomics experts for $149.

CEO Lisa Alderson cofounded the privately held company with Randy Scott, executive chairman of Invitae, and Robert Green, director of the Genomes2People Research Program at Brigham and Women's Hospital, last June. The firm, which recently raised $12 million to launch its services, employs 30 and is based in San Francisco.

According to Alderson, by offering in-depth, clinical genomic consultations to physicians and patients, Genome Medical is filling a gap thus far missing in genomic medicine, where general practitioners and specialists alike feel overwhelmed by big data, expanding test options, and unclear courses of action. Genome Medical believes its network of experts and telegenomics platform will be a springboard for overcoming this "last barrier" to making genomic medicine mainstream.

"We now have the medicine, the science, the technology to really bring into patient care the benefits of genetics and genomics," Alderson said. "The barrier that remains today and is standing in the way of that vision is being able to create access to genetics experts and also to appropriate physician education and training, because this really touches all areas of medicine."

Prior to cofounding Genome Medical, Alderson was chief commercial officer and chief strategy officer at Invitae, and while she described the genetic testing firm as "revolutionary," she said that Genome Medical's offering was a "missing piece" of the genomic medicine ecosystem.

Genome Medical began offering its services via a pilot program last fall and still considers itself to be in early access because it continues to "innovate and improve on its genomics platform and service delivery model," Alderson said. "There is further refinement in that process, but we are fully available and open for business."

For an initial fee of $149, physicians and patients gain access to the company's national team of genetic experts, who provide one-on-one services through its secure telehealth platform. It also has a team of physicians and internists that it integrates into its overall care delivery team.

"We are probably the first telegenomics company with an integrated care delivery model," said Alderson of the company's online approach. "Our platform will route the patient to the right genetic counselor."

Genome Medical's genetic experts help clients determine if genetic testing is appropriate for the given case, and provide advice on such testing, in some cases ordering tests from third parties, obtaining the results, and producing a clinical action plan. More specifically, depending on the state, Genome Medical can either support the patient's physician, when they are the ordering physician, or support the patient directly as a genomics medical practice.

This also entails, in some cases, sample collection, Alderson said. For testing partners that rely on saliva-based kits, Genome Medical can facilitate the shipment of those kits to the patient, which are then returned to the lab. For those who require a blood sample, Genome Medical will dispatch a mobile phlebotamist to the patient's home or office for sample collection.

"We are removing barriers and simplifying the logistics," said Alderson. 

In the cases where individuals have already undergone testing, Genome Medical's consultants help determine the implications of those tests results. "This empowers the consumer with the information, and the added value is to guide the patient and their treating physicians to appropriate clinical action that can be taken on the clinical information," said Alderson. "That is what Genome Medical is very focused on."

According to Alderson, in addition to helping self-referring individuals, Genome Medical works directly with individual physicians, medical groups, community hospitals, payors, testing labs, and employer organizations interested in independent genetic consultation services. Thus far, its primary channels have been self-referrals and physicians, she said. She declined to discuss volumes.

Genome Medical is not a test provider, Alderson noted, and is not linked to any platform. Rather it helps its customers identify the best tests for their needs, regardless of provider or technology. "We did a pretty extensive survey of labs, the quality of their tests, the coverage, sensitivity and specificity," said Alderson. "There are, of course, labs we feel strongly about, there may be relationships we tend to gravitate towards, but we are a medical practice and can order from virtually any laboratory."

Genome Medical is "completely independent" from Invitae, she noted.

The company currently offers its services in three areas: cancer genetics, reproductive health, and proactive health, the latter focused on genetic tests that lend insight into disease prevention and improving wellness. Alderson also said that the company's reproductive health offering is focused in part on carrier screening. The company announced a partnership with Good Start Genetics in January to offer support for Good Start's VeriYou carrier screening testing service.

Genome Medical hopes within the next six to nine months to offer coverage of cardiovascular genetics, while it sees pediatric genetics as a longer-term, 2018 initiative. "That is more complex [to offer] via telehealth," said Alderson of pediatric testing. "Many pediatric cases require a physical or working with a pediatrician to provide the physical," she noted.

Currently, all services are offered under a patient-pay model, though the firm hopes that will change as it gains third-party payor coverage for certain areas, such as cancer genetic testing.

The company also aims to expand its geographical coverage. Genome Medical's genetic counseling services are currently available in 44 states, while its physician services are offered in fewer. Genome Medical will work "aggressively" to achieve nation-wide coverage by year end, Alderson said.

The company raised funding in a seed round last fall and recently completed a Series A round. While Alderson would not divulge the specific amounts raised in each round, she said that it totals $12 million. Canaan Partners, HealthInvest Equity Partners, and Flywheel Ventures are original investors in Genome Medical, while Illumina Ventures joined in its Series A round, which Canaan led. 

Genome Medical is now working with San Diego-based Illumina to support its Understand Your Genome whole-genome sequencing symposium, which is marketed to professionals for $1,900. "We help make that a turnkey experience," Alderson said of the combined offering. "We will counsel a patient in advance of testing, requisition testing, deliver and talk patients through the results, and deliver a clinical action plan that summarizes recommended actions for the patient," she said. "It is testing plus Genome Medical services."

Dawn Barry, vice president of applied genomics at Illumina, said in a statement that Genome Medical provides a "critical connection" between genetic tests and the individuals receiving them, enabling users to "decide if genomics is right for them, what to expect, and how to leverage the insights for better health."

Barry noted that Genome Medical executives were early adopters of Illumina's program and said the two companies are "working side-by-side to deploy the science in a clinically rigorous way."

Many believe that personal whole-genome sequencing, such as Illumina's offering, will increase in the future, which Genome Medical thinks will reinforce the need for its telegenomics service. The company is certainly not the only firm to facilitate whole-genome sequencing services to consumers, with companies like Guardiome and Veritas entering the market in recent years.

"If you believe like I do that over the next 20 years we will all be sequenced, we can't have 330 million people seen by 6,000 experts two hours at a time," said Alderson. "That's just not going to get us there," she said. "We offer a medically responsible way to improve service delivery and augment existing healthcare delivery channels." 

While Genome Medical has the background to make good on its goals, other companies and institutions have also tried to meet the demand for online genomic consulting services in recent years. One Spanish firm called Telegenomics advertises similar services, while Danville, Pennsylvania-based Geisinger Health System rolled out a telegenomics platform in 2015.

"There are aspects of this that have been done before," Alderson acknowledged. "I think the uniqueness is the comprehensiveness of our vision and this innovative care delivery system that … provides a full, end-to-end solution for genome-centered healthcare."

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