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Money in the Genomes

Companies are racing to cash in on whatever aspect of the consumer genome they can, writes Alex Lash at Xconomy. He adds many of these ventures are still getting off the ground, but that they are all seeking a slice of all the genetic information that's out there.

Genomic Health spinout Invitae, for instance, aims to develop generic genetic tests, bringing cheaper versions of gene tests already out there to the market, Lash says. The company says that by the end of the year, it'll have some 125 tests for diseases across five therapeutic areas and spanning some 600 genes. Lash notes it's barely sold anything just yet.

"But eventually the tests will be the loss leaders that ferry into the company what's truly valuable: the genetic information of thousands upon thousands of people," he says.

CEO Randy Scott envisions that Invitae will go beyond selling tests. One additional area he tells Lash would be in genome management or providing genetic counseling services based on a consumer's genome over the course of his or her life to prevent disease and encourage wellness. This move into more health and wellness, Lash notes, parallels what Leroy Hood's Arivale and Craig Venter's Health Nucleus are pursuing.

Another is to become a sort of middleman that connects clinical trials and other companies to its customers, much as 23andMe has started with Pfizer for irritable bowel research and with Genentech for Parkinson's disease research.

Lash notes, though, that "[i]n a low-margin, high-volume business, promises of disruption can outstrip actual results" — a reference to lab-testing company Theranos' recent troubles.

Then, there are the issues of security and privacy to contend with, and Scoot notes that no system is fully secure. "That's another reason you ought to be the one who owns [your own data]," he says. "And you're choosing to take on that risk."

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