Day one of the FDA’s two-day public meeting on the future of clinical DTC genetic testing is in the books. Those unable to attend in person were, unfortunately, forced to resort to Twitter coverage of the proceedings as the government declined to provide a live webcast. (I’m told there will not be a recorded webcast either. Perhaps the FDA is engaging in preventative cost-cutting.)
The first day was divided into three roughly equal parts: background presentations from the FDA and invited speakers, a second set of “public presentations” by companies and individuals who requested time to present their views and, finally, public deliberations by the Molecular and Clinical Genetics Panel (“MCGP”). Tomorrow will feature more public presentations, several more sessions of MCGP deliberations and, at the end of the meeting, recommendations from the MCGP to the FDA on the questions presented (pdf) by the FDA.
A Familiar Feeling to Day One. The first two sessions, which featured presentations to the MCGP, followed a fairly familiar script. Opponents of clinical DTC genetic testing worried that incorrect or misinterpreted tests could produce harmful outcomes, and questioned whether there was anything of value to be gained from the tests in the first place. Proponents argued that the DTC model empowered patients to explore their genetic selves without any ill effects. For those who attended or followed last summer’s two-day public meeting to discuss the FDA’s proposal to regulate laboratory developed tests (LDTs), much of the conversation echoed what was said on day two of that meeting during the direct-to-consumer (DTC) session.
In a few hours, the FDA will kick off a two-day public meeting to consider the future of clinical direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic tests. Few corners of the personal genomics landscape have generated as much attention from regulators, consumers and, especially, the media as DTC genetic testing. Thus, when the meeting was first announced last month, we applauded the FDA’s attempt to examine DTC’s unique set of issues separate from other larger and ongoing regulatory conversations, including whether and how to regulate the far more numerous category of laboratory developed tests (LDTs).
So just what should we expect from the next two-days? 2010 saw a flurry of DTC-related regulatory and legislative activity but, ultimately, little in the way of new oversight or concrete guidance. Both regulators (including the FDA) and industry appear to have responded in 2011 with a more measured approach, and this week’s meeting is an opportunity to thoroughly examine the state of DTC genetic testing and develop a clear, sensible strategy for future oversight of the industry.
Over at Genetic Future, Daniel MacArthur has already weighed in, adopting a tone of cautious optimism in advance of the DTC meeting. Meanwhile, with just a few hours left until the meeting kicks off, here are three key points I’ll be emphasizing in my own talk tomorrow morning (slides):
We have recently summarized efforts by two state legislatures to design regulatory schemes addressing issues raised by the proliferation of genetic information about individuals. New York’s effort addresses questions of insurance coverage for genetic testing. Massachusetts’ goes much further, calling itself a “Genetic Bill of Rights,”a title that accurately reflects its ambitions. In reviewing both of these proposals we have made the point that state-level legislation is no substitute for a coordinated and long-overdue federal-level approach.
But who will lead that coordinated federal effort? As we wrote recently, since the 2008 publication of a SACGHS report identifying major gaps in the regulation of genetic testing, that committee has been disbanded and no clear successor has emerged to champion these issues at the federal level. Last week, the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI), which was originally created by the NIH to support the Human Genome Project, and is today tasked with advancing the understanding and application of human genomics, updated its long-term strategic plan for the first time since 2003 (pdf). Although a “critical part” of the NHGRI’s mission is the “study of the ethical, legal and social implications (ELSI) of genome research,” the Institute’s new roadmap barely touches upon ELSI issues, and dispenses with “legal and public policy issues” in a single sentence by noting the need for “collaborations.”
I’m pleased to announce the beta launch of a new community resource for personal genomics, Genomes Unzipped.
I’ve been working with a group of colleagues on this project for quite a while now. Some of the group members will be familiar to regular readers of the Genomics Law Report, including Daniel MacArthur from Genetic Future, Luke Jostins from Genetic Inference and Caroline Wright from the PHG Foundation. Others are new to the online personal genomics community, but have scientific training in genomic analysis, statistical genetics and other fields that allow them to offer valuable insight into personal genomics issues. We’ll be adding more names to that list over the next few weeks.
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.
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.
Direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic testing company 23andMe made news this week thanks to a lab mix-up that left up to 96 customers reviewing genetic data that was not their own. Full details of the mix-up, and analysis of 23andMe’s response, are available from Daniel MacArthur at Genetic Future and Turna Ray at Pharmacogenomics Reporter.
23andMe’s sample swap follows close on the heels of the FDA announcing an investigation into Pathway Genomics and Congress launching an even broader investigation of the three leading DTC genetic testing providers. Not surprisingly, many commentators have pointed to 23andMe’s mix-up as just the latest example of the dangers of DTC genetic testing and further evidence of the need for greater federal regulatory scrutiny.
There are a number of reasons why DTC genetic testing may soon find itself subject to increased federal regulatory oversight. However, 23andMe’s widely publicized data error should not be one of those reasons. In fact, the sample swap, while unfortunately timed, actually presents a compelling argument in favor of the direct-to-consumer model for genetic testing.
Last week I posted a response to a column in the Sunday Times by Camilla Long, “Long’s Op-Ed on Personal Genomics Comes Up Short.” Readers of that piece may be interested in a further response (“Choosing to use genetic testing is an option. Ignorance isn’t“), which I wrote with Daniel MacArthur of Genetic Future, published today in the Times.
Last week the GLR covered deCODEme’s announcement that it was offering existing customers of its main competitor, 23andMe, the opportunity to have their genomic data interpreted by deCODEme’s own service. For free.
Although somewhat surprising from a short-term commercial perspective, I generally liked the move by deCODE as a means to improve the company’s genomic data interpretation abilities. Here’s what I wrote at the time:
If interpretation proves to be one of the key differentiators between DTC genomics companies, as expected, deCODE (and other companies) should embrace opportunities to hone their interpretative platforms now, while the DTC commercial market remains relatively small.
As both Peter Aldhous of New Scientist and Daniel MacArthur of Genetic Future have pointed out, it appears that there is some honing to be done on deCODEme’s end. From ancestry confusion to interpretative errors in evaluating Alzheimer’s risk, deCODEme’s first attempt at genomic data migration has been an imperfect one. Would deCODEme have preferred a seamless launch to their 23andMe data migration service? Of course. But if the experiment now pays off in smoother data migration and interpretation for the company in 2010 and beyond, these first bumps in the road will soon be forgotten.
Daniel MacArthur of Genetic Future provides coverage of the decision by direct-to-consumer (DTC) genomics service provider deCODEme to offer existing 23andMe customers the ability to upload their raw 23andMe data to the deCODEme service. For free.
MacArthur correctly notes that the value of the genome scans provided by companies such as 23andMe and deCODEme lies not in the actual creation of raw genetic data but in the interpretation of that data, and wonders why deCODEme has decided to give that away for free. Here’s MacArthur’s take:
So, why the free offer? I’m guessing deCODEme is gambling (quite reasonably) that offering free uploads will attract a non-trivial number of 23andMe customers over to deCODEme’s interface. That then provides the Icelanders with an opportunity to give people a fair trial of their own interface, and hopefully to impress them with the quality and accessibility of the data provided.
That seems reasonable, and many 23andMe customers are likely already familiar with porting their raw genetic data to other interpretive tools – Promethease, for example – so perhaps this puts deCODE in front of a group of individuals who would not otherwise be in the market for a duplicative genome scan. (23andMe appears unconcerned by the prospect of a side-by-side comparison of its service with that of deCODEme.)
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