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Startup Pillar Health Aims to Marry Consumer Genomics, Wellness


SAN FRANCISCO (GenomeWeb) – New York City-based startup Pillar Health, launched last week, aims to tap into the growing consumer genomics space with initial products in wellness.

Pillar was founded by genomics researchers Christopher Mason, an associate professor at Weill Cornell Medicine and Joel Dudley, founding director of the Institute for Next Generation Healthcare at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

The health technology and nutritional supplement firm Thorne has invested an undisclosed amount of funding into Pillar Health and will be a majority shareholder.

Pillar plans to offer a full suite of omics analyses to consumers, including genomics, epigenomics, metabolomics, and microbiomics, and will pair those analyses with an assessment of the individual's built environment in order to identify markers of wellness and health. Initially it plans to focus on nutrition and fitness, but eventually it plans to expand further into health and disease risk prediction, according to Mason.

The company has not yet set a date to begin offering services, nor is it disclosing how much the services will cost or the specific information it will deliver back to customers. Mason estimated the first product would be available later this summer.

One key will be Thorne's partnership with Drawbridge Health, a startup developing at-home blood sample collection technology. The company's technology enables individuals to collect blood from their own upper arms, and the proprietary chemistry stabilizes the blood so it can be shipped to a lab for testing. Drawbridge has also developed the device that will analyze the sample and is seeking US Food and Drug Administration clearance for its technology.

Pillar Health also plans to develop artificial intelligence and machine learning methods to mine the data and will tap into the methods developed as part of the WorldQuant Initiative, which was launched by Weill Cornell Medicine earlier this year to apply algorithms used in finance to genomics.

Initially the firm will return information related to ancestry, gut microbiome composition, telomere length, and fitness, Mason said. However, he added that he's been having discussions with the FDA about what would be required to deliver disease risk data to customers.

Pillar plans to partner with undisclosed labs for sequencing and other omics data generation, Mason said, and will be aiming for a turnaround time of two weeks.

Pillar's first target market will likely be Thorne's existing customer network of practitioners and athletes. Thorne collaborates with the Mayo Clinic on nutritional supplement research and consumer education and works with 35 professional sports teams and 11 Olympic teams, developing nutritional supplements for the athletes, Thorne CEO Paul Jacobson said. It also has a corporate wellness program, he added.

Jacobson said that the firm is interested in combining its supplement development efforts with genomics to generate data that will support more personalized recommendations with the goal of disease prevention and preventative health.

Pillar's first products will likely be designed with these customers in mind. Jacobson added that the genomics and microbiome data generated by Pillar could be used to offer consumers specific supplements. For instance, Jacobson said, if it's revealed someone has a particular food sensitivity or is lacking a specific nutrient, recommendations could be made based on those findings.

Thorne and Pillar will also collaborate on research, Jacobson said. For instance, Thorne could use gut microbiome data generated by Pillar to develop new probiotics. Pillar customers would be able to opt in or out of having their data used for research, he added.

The consumer genomics market is still relatively small. Companies like 23andMe and offer SNP-based panels that cost a few hundred dollars and have broad consumer reach, while others like Arivale and Human Longevity are looking to do more complete genomic profiling to cater to a more niche market, due to the expense and the fact that there is limited evidence suggesting that such comprehensive analyses can improve health.

Mason said that Pillar Health aims to be different from Arivale and Human Longevity because it hopes to profile customers longitudinally, as opposed to just once. In addition, he noted that Pillar will set itself apart with the environmental analysis component and its connection with Thorne to offer nutritional supplements tailored to an individual's profile.