This morning, Gene By Gene, Ltd. – better known as the parent company of the popular genetic genealogy provider Family Tree DNA – formally announced a corporate reorganization that includes the debut of a new division, DNA DTC. (Apparently the news was also announced earlier this month at the Family Tree DNA Conference, although the company waited until today to launch press releases.)
The announcement from Gene By Gene is newsworthy for several reasons, including:
1. The Return of True DTC Whole Genome and Whole Exome Sequencing. According to DNA DTC, the company offers a range of products “utilizing next generation sequencing including the entire exome (at 80x coverage) and the whole genome.” The company’s website, while fairly spartan, appears to bear this out. Whole exomes ($695 at 80x coverage) and genomes ($5,495 at 30x coverage) are both listed as available products.
Now, Gene By Gene is not, as its Wikipedia page claims (as of this writing), “the first commercial company to offer whole genome sequencing tests.” Knome earned that honor more than four years ago, when it started selling whole genome sequences for $350,000; an astounding price, either low (given the cost of the first human genome was $3 billion) or high (given that, well, it was $350,000) depending on your perspective. Gene By Gene probably does represent, however, the only commercial company currently offering a whole genome sequence in a truly direct-to-consumer (DTC) manner.
With so many developments at the intersection of genomics and the law, there is often a variety of interesting stories that, for one reason or another, don’t find their way into a full-length posting on the Genomics Law Report. In this post we recap several recent key developments and, at bottom, round up all of the recent tweets from @genomicslawyer.
Personalized Medicine’s Perception Gaps. A new report released this week by the biopharmaceuticals company Quintiles (pdf) examines the perspectives of four key stakeholder groups – biopharma executives (n=200), managed care executives (n=153), physicians (n=503) and patients (n=1,000) – across a wide range of personalized medicine issues.
The report contains a number of interesting statistical nuggets about how these groups perceive their strengths, weaknesses and future role in the advancement of personalized medicine. These include the following:
- Only 44% of biopharmaceutical executives believe that their organization provides “readily available” outcomes data to demonstrate the value of medications;
- Healthcare professionals generally agree (65%) that patients who seek out information on their own achieve better health outcomes, but more than a third (36%) believe that patients are more frequently misinformed than they were five years ago;
- Fewer than half (44%) of doctors surveyed are optimistic that the quality of healthcare will be significantly improved over the coming decade; and
- At least a third of payers (33%) and biopharma execs (38%) believe that personalized medicine will have a negative effect on job and healthcare discrimination (this despite the passage of 2008 legislation (GINA) designed to prevent discrimination on the basis of genetic information in both cases).
Updating the DTC Debate: Trial by Press Release, More FDA Letters, the Problem of Pleiotropy and New RUO Guidance
Later today I will join several colleagues here in Chicago, IL at the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) annual meeting for a panel discussion on Direct-to-Consumer Genetic Testing for Cancer: What Physicians Need to Know (pdf). (Daniel MacArthur and Misha Angrist will not be on the panel, although each joined us in authoring the pre-conference paper.)
This will, I believe, mark direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic testing’s formal debut at ASCO. It should also serve as another reminder that, despite its relatively small numbers (both in terms of dollars and customers), DTC genetic testing continues to exert an outsized influence when it comes to conversations about the future of genomic medicine. This is particularly true when the discussion turns to appropriate policy and regulatory oversight.
In advance of ASCO, here are several items of interest from the past few weeks in DTC genetic testing.
For companies seeking to make their mark in the ultra-competitive next-generation sequencing (NGS) market, new technology and lower prices may no longer be enough.
As the size of the NGS sequencing market grows and an increasing number of NGS purchasers evaluate an expanding array of providers and technologies (see William Blair’s Next-Generation Sequencing Survey), NGS companies are beginning to look beyond price points and product specs in an attempt to stand out.
Ion Torrent on the Offensive. Consider Ion Torrent, an NGS newcomer recently acquired by Life Technologies, which launched its first product (the Personal Genome Machine) a scant four months ago. Since then, Ion Torrent has announced improvements to the PGM’s output, read length and sample prep (coverage from Matthew Herper of Forbes here and here).
As it seeks to distinguish the PGM from its competitors’ products, particularly Illumina’s offerings (see J.P. Morgan’s Next Gen Sequencing Survey), Ion Torrent has added a new dimension to its PGM campaign. Ion Torrent recently launched several creative online advertisements, with its side-by-side comparison of the PGM and Illumina’s MiSeq system—modeled after Apple’s popular “I’m a Mac/I’m a PC” campaign—raising the most eyebrows.
Earlier this week we took a look back at 2010 and offered our projections for the coming year in personal genomics. Topic #1, just as it was last year: the $1,000 genome.
In hindsight, it might have been ill-advised to offer predictions about the near-term future of genome sequencing during the same week in which one of the year’s major industry conferences (the JP Morgan annual Healthcare Conference) is taking place.
It is shaping up to be an eventful fourth quarter for genomic sequencing companies. Investors welcomed sequencing newcomer Pacific Biosciences (PacBio) to the public stage with a strong initial public offering (IPO). According to The Wall Street Journal, the company managed “the first U.S. life-sciences [IPO] this year to price well and trade higher” (although the stock has since traded down somewhat). Up next: another next-gen sequencing IPO with Complete Genomics (CGI) expected to follow PacBio into the public market as early as tomorrow.1
The past few weeks have also seen strong third quarter earnings reports from market leaders Illumina (earnings recap) and Life Technologies (earnings recap), with both companies touting double-digit growth in their next-generation sequencing businesses. Illumina and Life Technologies (Life) are also hard at work on their next generation of products which are intended to compete more directly with the offerings from PacBio and CGI (Oxford Nanopore for Illumina, Ion Torrent and Starlight for Life). Meanwhile, China’s own sequencing entrant, BGI, continues to buy up sequencers (first from Illumina, more recently from Life), and what will soon become the world’s largest provider of genomic sequencing has its own ambitious plans.
[Editor’s Note: Newsweek science editor Mary Carmichael has a DNA Dilemma. As Carmichael debates whether to take a direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic test, she is soliciting feedback from the DTC community, from the public and from other commentators, including myself. At the end of the week, she will make her decision.
On Tuesday, Carmichael and five commentators examined what can be learned from a DTC genetic test. Yesterday, the topic was whether DTC genetic tests are trustworthy, and whether the results can be cause for concern. Today’s topic is the regulation of DTC genetic tests. In addition to several short commentaries, including a much shorter version of the piece below, Carmichael has also posted a lengthy interview with two top FDA officials on the subject of DTC genetic testing regulation.
The column below is an expanded version of what appears over at Newsweek. To see all of the commentaries in Carmichael’s series, click here.]
The recent media attention focused on direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic tests has left companies, investors, consumers and even regulators scrambling to figure out what comes next.
As the situation stands today, companies and their investors live in a climate of unprecedented regulatory uncertainty, causing delays in the introduction of new products and rendering an already inhospitable economic climate – for both fundraising and sales – even more challenging. Commentators and regulators caution consumers that some DTC genetic tests may be unreliable or, worse, harmful, but have yet to provide clear tools and guidelines for evaluating competing tests. And regulators, including the FDA, must balance their mandate to protect the health and safety of the public with that same public’s desire for autonomy, while also recognizing that innovation is a prerequisite for a healthcare system that must continue to improve outcomes while reducing costs.
Clearly, something must change. But what will that change be? And how will the field of DTC genetic testing evolve? Will DTC be able to continue its current business while regulators and companies engage in protracted negotiations? Will oversight weed out the “snake oil salesmen” and permit legitimate companies to flourish? Will it drive all genetic testing (temporarily) out of the hands of consumers?
Or will the field change in a dramatic and completely unexpected way?
Earlier this week the FDA held a widely publicized two-day public meeting to discuss its planned regulation of laboratory developed tests (LDTs) (for more see: Day One Recap and Day Two Recap). Other than Monday morning, when the FDA presented background information on LDTs and some of the considerations that have pushed the Agency to pursue a “risk-based application of oversight to LDTs,” the top Agency officials at the meeting were conspicuously quiet. Elsewhere, however, the FDA was doing plenty of talking.
In letters dated July 19th, the first day of the FDA’s public LDT meeting, the Agency continued its crackdown on direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic test providers, mailing letters to 14 providers of genetic tests. A list of all 14 companies and tests appears below.
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.
In an editorial in the Time’s of London’s Sunday edition – “When DNA means do not ask” – columnist Camilla Long took note of Glenn Close’s decision to sequence her genome. Long’s column begins with gossipy comments appropriate to her usual home turf (which is not science journalism). But she soon gets into territory clearly unfamiliar to her, focusing on what she perceives as the increasing commercialization of personal genomics and the broader failures of genetic information to provide satisfying explanations or cures for complex diseases.
Long’s column is a seriously one-sided and misinformed portrayal of not only personal genomics in the direct-to-consumer (DTC) context but also of the utility of genetic information in any context — clinical, commercial or otherwise. At Genetic Future, Daniel MacArthur’s response (“Willful ignorance is not an effective argument against personal genomics”) is every bit as accurate as it is scathing, and appropriately characterizes Long’s writing as “a true masterpiece of unsupported criticism, and an ode to willful ignorance.”