Mind to Market

Friday, May 09, 2008

Consumer Genome Tests

With the U.S. Senate passing the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) last week the bill now moves on to President Bush for signature into law. One more impediment to the genomics age will be removed. Does this pave the way for personal genomics companies such as 23andme and Navigenics?

The Wall Street Journal took up the issue of accuracy with these consumer products last week. As with many new (although I can't really call it disruptive) technologies, this one is somewhat of an expensive novelty. The main criticism seems to be a lack of accuracy in identifying just what genetic diseases an individual may be susceptible to. Although there are numerous tests for susceptibility to heart disease, the current genetic tests don't provide much more accuracy than can be provided by measuring blood pressure.

Some fairly rare genetic diseases do show up clearly on the tests, e.g. a condition associated with a higher instance of blood clotting: factor V Leiden. There is a gray area where the tests will indicate a higher susceptibility to a disease but don't go so far as to say you will contract it. This would be valuable to an individual by allowing them to increase their level of monitoring and taking preventative measures.

So far the insurance companies have yet to buy in on the whole genome tests although they have been covering disease specific tests such as those for breast cancer prognosis.

What the personal genomics companies are selling now is information, information in a quantity and form with which scientists and clinicians, let alone consumers, can barely get their arms around. As Howard McLeod, professor of pharmacology at the University of North Carolina, is quoted as saying "You get a lot of information but very little knowledge." The real challenge, and true value, will be to extract knowledge from these tests.

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