23andMe study. Frontier Tech Healthcare. Digital Hospital.
The Gene Is Out Of The Bottle
We sent out our research briefing on genomics last week, you can get it here. As we were putting together the final touches, several pieces of noteworthy genomics news came out. Needless to say it was a long week.
The first piece of news was Helix, an Illumina spin-out, unveiling their “App Store for DNA.” This is notable for a few reasons:
1) the company is going the route of direct-to-consumer whole exome sequencing (mapping the protein coding regions of DNA) as opposed to genotyping (examining a predetermined set of genes we know about). The latter is more common through kits like 23andMe, but the former produces significantly more data with a lot more unknowns. And it’s important because…
2) Helix has opened the doors for a robust 3rd party ecosystem to develop on top of this data. This strategy has been adopted by several tech companies (e.g. Salesforce) that essentially outsource product development to others who want to build on top of the platform, which also makes the platform itself more valuable.
The second piece of news was the announcement that 23andMe is conducting a massive association study to find links between genes and depression. In the research briefing I talked about 23andMe increasingly being used as a tool in research, but recently it has used its direct-to-consumer relationships to more easily recruit patients into clinical trials and even conduct “at home” studies where patients test themselves. This could help bypass one of the key problems with clinical trials – patient recruitment – and even restructure how studies themselves are done. 23andMe is expanding beyond just a testing company, and into a platform and services company, potentially into areas like fertility and family planning.
The final piece of news was the first CRISPR studies conducted on human embryos in the US. As this technology continues to develop, it will no doubt spark a discussion about ethical frameworks for this space and the role of regulation. Considering gene-editing experiments in humans are already seeing progress in China and the UK, there will be a delicate balancing act between sensible regulation and enabling progress.