Last January we kicked off the new year by posing “Five Questions for Personal Genomics in 2010.” Here were the five questions we asked:
1. Will the $1,000 genome live up to the hype?
2. Will personal genomics stay DTC?
3. How will the ongoing gene patent debate affect the progress of personalized medicine?
4. When and where will the next regulatory shoe fall?
5. Who will control the data?
A year later the question that comes first to mind is, has anything really changed?
The short answer is no, not fundamentally, although that is not meant to imply that nothing of note happened in 2010. Far from it, as significant legal, regulatory, policy and technological developments continued to reshape the personal genomics landscape.
With that in mind, we welcome 2011 with a look back at the year that was, and a look ahead at what to expect from 2011 and beyond.
Next week, the eyes of the personal genomics world will be focused on Washington, D.C., where the FDA and Congress will be meeting separately to consider the industry’s future. First, the FDA will convene a highly-anticipated public meeting (July 19th and 20th) to “discuss how the agency will oversee laboratory-developed tests (LDTs).” The FDA announced last month a proposal to develop a “risk-based” approach to oversight of all LDTs – a broad category that includes the vast majority of genetic tests, including high-complexity diagnostic tests (IVDMIAs) and direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic tests. Hot on the heels of the FDA meeting, on July 22nd, the House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce – which two months ago launched its own investigation into the personal genomics industry – will hold a subcommittee hearing on “Direct-to-Consumer Genetic Testing and the Consequences to the Public Health.”1
While the genomics and personalized medicine communities anxiously await the upcoming FDA and Congressional meetings, yesterday the future of personal genomics was being debated on the opposite coast, at a policy forum in San Francisco entitled “Genomics and the Consumer: The Present and Future of Personalized Medicine” (pdf). The forum, which was hosted by California State Senator Alex Padilla (sponsor of S.B. 482, the so-called “bioinformatics bill”) and personal genomics company 23andMe, was filled with speculation from personal genomics investors, providers, customers and commentators about what the FDA and Congress might have in store for the field.
Are you ready for consumer genetics? Is your government?
Recent announcements of federal investigations into the budding direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic testing industry suggest that authorities are preparing to increase regulation of companies offering consumers access to their own genetic data. However, rather than rushing in to clamp down on the industry, regulators should slow down and focus, first, on understanding this complex field.
An increasing number of individuals are exploring their genetic information using tests purchased directly over the Internet. For between $100 and $1,000 consumers can purchase a saliva collection tube, spit in the tube, and mail it back to the company. A few weeks later the results are available online. One DTC genetics company, 23andMe, recently announced that it had provided its test to over 30,000 customers.
Genetic tests can provide the consumer with personalized information ranging from eye color, to ancestry, to risk of common diseases such as diabetes. Many companies include all of these traits and more in a single product examining hundreds of thousands of genetic markers. For the moment, these tests are available to anybody with a computer and a sense of curiosity. But that could all change.
Nearly a month ago we reported that the House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce had launched an investigation into direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic testing, sending letters to several of the most prominent DTC companies: 23andMe, Pathway Genomics and Navigenics.
Today the Committee has followed up with another letter, this one directed to 23andMe president and co-founder Anne Wojcicki, inquiring into the circumstances surrounding the company’s recent and widely reported sample swap. The letter (pdf), which is signed by the same four Representatives (Waxman, Barton, Stupak and Burgess) requests the following:
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The FDA has published online letters sent to five personal genomics companies – 23andMe, Navigenics, deCODE Genetics, Knome and Illumina – informing the companies that they are manufacturing and selling medical devices without appropriate FDA premarket review and approval. No surprise that the news that the FDA has sent out letters to some of the most well-known providers of DTC genetic testing products is already making waves. (Daniel MacArthur was the first to point me to the AP story, and Mary Carmichael of Newsweek and Andrew Pollack of The New York Times were among the first to dive into the substance of the letters.)
Below, we will discuss the immediate and long-term implications of the FDA’s most recent regulatory actions for the five companies receiving letters, as well as for the DTC genetic testing industry. First, however, a review of the letters themselves is required. Each of the five two-page letters is signed by Alberto Gutierrez, Director of the FDA’s Office of In Vitro Diagnostic Device Evaluation and Safety (OIVD), and follows a similar format throughout. To gauge the impact of these letters we will take them paragraph by paragraph.
The United States House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce today launched an investigation into direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic testing, sending letters to three prominent DTC companies: 23andMe, Pathway Genomics and Navigenics. Here is the announcement from the Committee:
Today Chairman Henry A. Waxman, Ranking Member Joe Barton, Subcommittee Chairman Bart Stupak, and Subcommittee Ranking Member Michael C. Burgess sent letters to 23andMe, Inc., Navigenics, and Pathway Genomics Corporation in light of recent reports that at least one of the companies is seeking to sell personal genetic testing kits in retail locations, despite concern from the scientific community regarding the accuracy of test results.
The Committee is requesting information from the companies on several aspects of the tests: How the companies analyze test results to determine consumers’ risk for any conditions, diseases, drug responses, and adverse reactions; the ability of the companies’ genetic testing products to accurately identify any genetic risks; and the companies’ policies for the collection, storage, and processing of individual genetic samples collected from consumers.
Earlier today I examined the FDA’s emerging regulatory “policy” with respect to direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic tests. The thrust of the FDA’s comments to date appear to focus on Pathway’s proposed partnership with Walgreens, specifically the fact that Pathway’s tests would be available in a “drugstore,” as the impetus for the FDA’s prompt and public regulatory response.
I questioned whether the apparent distinction driving the FDA’s policy—focusing on the point of sale—is an appropriate one. I also asked if that is, in fact, to be the applicable distinction, where you draw the line?
The fact that Walgreens is referred to as a “drugstore” is not much help, particularly when you consider that the number of products sold by Walgreens and similar chains that are not regulated by the FDA—everything from sandals and sunglasses to batteries and beach balls—dwarfs the number of products that are regulated. So what is it, exactly, about the Pathway/Walgreens partnership that prompted the FDA to act so quickly and publicly? Would the FDA’s response have been different if Pathway had partnered with Wal-Mart? With Amazon.com? And if we get all the way to Amazon.com, how different is this from what Pathway was already doing: selling its test directly to consumers through a publicly accessible website? (emphasis added)
As it turns out, 23andMe’s own DTC genetic tests are available through Amazon.com.
Yesterday, direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic test provider Pathway Genomics and drugstore giant Walgreens announced a partnership that will place Pathway’s tests on the shelves of thousands of Walgreens stores across the country. Earlier coverage from the GLR reviewed the announcement in detail, and examined whether the Pathway/Walgreens partnership might prove to be the catalyst for increased FDA regulation of DTC genetic tests.
Introducing the FDA to Pathway, but not to genetic testing. Continuing national media coverage has focused on comments from the FDA that the agency was unaware of Pathway’s genetic test and that it has opened an investigation into its legality. Yesterday, Office of In Vitro Diagnostic Device Evaluation and Safety (OIVD) Director Alberto Gutierrez told The Washington Post that he thought Pathway’s genetic test “would be an illegally marketed device” if the company proceeded with the announced Walgreens partnership. Gutierrez was also widely quoted as saying that the FDA was not aware of the test previously and that the agency was “in the process of investigating the test.”
The direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic testing marketplace is on the move again. Just last week, in Mapping the Personal Genomics Landscape, I wrote that “predicting precisely which consumer services will be offered and how, if at all, they will be regulated, is impossible. All we know is that personal genomics consumers ten years from now are certain to have many, many more options than they do today.”
Turns out we only needed to wait a week – not a decade – for the landscape to shift again. Earlier today, DTC provider Pathway Genomics announced that it was partnering with drugstore giant Walgreens to offer its genetic testing service through most of that chain’s 7,500 stores.
Is Walgreens the Tipping Point for Personal Genomics Regulation? At first blush, this might appear to be nothing more than a creative product partnership between a fledgling personal genomics company and a giant drugstore chain. As it turns out, there are early indications that the Pathway/Walgreens partnership could turn out to be a tipping point in the regulation of personal genomics.
Last week saw the first annual Genomes, Environments, Traits (GET) Conference, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Timed to coincide with DNA Day 2010, the conference marked one decade since the publication of the draft consensus human genome sequence. The GET Conference was billed as “the last chance in history to collect everyone with a personal genome sequence on the same stage to share their experiences and discuss the important ways in which personal genomes will affect all of our lives in the coming years.” Not quite everyone with a public personal genome sequence attended – Craig Venter, Desmond Tutu, Glenn Close were all unavailable – but a majority of the genomic pioneers were in attendance and the GET Conference was a one-of-a-kind event.
For those who missed the GET Conference, several high quality recaps are available. The most detailed is A Day Among Genomes, by Carl Zimmer of Discover’s blog The Loom. More targeted reflections on the conference and related events come from Emily Singer of Technology Review summarzing key trends highlighted by the genome pioneers (Singer also has a related piece on the difficulties of understanding human genomes), David Dobbs of Neuron Culture on genomes, cool conferences, and what the hell to tell people about behavioral genes, and Turna Ray of Pharmacogenomics Reporter on the recent Myriad Genetics decision, and its impact on the business of patenting genes. If you’d like even more detail, the Twitter community provided real-time play-by-play.
While there’s no need for a further summary, the GET Conference does provide an occasion to look at the evolving personal genomics landscape in a more holistic fashion.