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Genetic testing magnate Ancestry CEO Margo Georgiadis said that the startup plans to branch out from genealogy testing and expand into individualized medicine, Business Insider Prime reports.
The company has largely refrained from stepping into the broader healthcare space — apart from a brief flirtation with an AncestryHealth product in 2015 — despite the success its rivals have achieved by leveraging genetic insights for pharmaceutical research and precision medicine. But now, Ancestry is building out a full health team, with open roles in marketing, engineering, communications, and senior management.
Here’s what it means: Ancestry has sold more direct to consumer (DTC) genetic tests than its competitors — at 14 million — and its massive footprint could give it a competitive edge.
If Ancestry can translate its success with individual consumers to large, industry partnerships, it could threaten the dominance of 23andMe, which has been the subject of major industry attention.23andMe snagged a $300 million partnership with GSK last year that gives the pharma giant exclusive access to 23andMe’s consumer genetic data for the codevelopment of new drugs.
Though it’s true that 23andMe has long offered genetic screening for health diseases — which may make its data more valuable than Ancestry’s heritage information — it’s undeniable that 23andMe’s overall market share is dwarfed by Ancestry: 23andMe sold 10 million tests as of April 2019 compared with Ancestry’s 14 million — 7 million of which were sold in just the last year.
And Ancestry should benefit from this lead among consumers, as the market shows no signs of slowing down: Genetic testing is projected to reach 100 million people by 2021, per MIT Technology Review.
The bigger picture: Ancestry says its health strategy will be centered around offering its customers actionable genetic insights — and we have some ideas about what this could mean as it moves in on individualized medicine.
- Ancestry is interested in how to offer its customers actionable health insights — the lack of which has been a major problem for other DTC genetic health firms. Georgiadis told BI Prime that Ancestry had steered away from health because it couldn’t offer much in the way of actionable data. And this worry checks out, as healthcare providers have raised concerns over the potential for both false positives and false negatives generated by DTC genetic tests to cause undue stress for patients or a lack engagement with recommended medical screening, respectively. In other words, genetic information can be confusing and opaque for the average customer. To help alleviate this problem, California-based DTC genetic testing firm Color Genomics offers free genetic counseling included with its $249 test so customers can better understand their genetic data and receive guidance on next steps. We could see Ancestry take a similar approach, offering a higher-priced test that includes health testing and genetic counseling to guide customers toward treatment options — maybe even from other partner health companies.
- And the company will likely follow the lead of its DTC competitors, exploring partnerships with large tech or pharma partnerships. For example, Ancestry quietly teamed up with Google subsidiary Calico in 2015, providing data for a study examining genetic factors on lifespan. We expect that no matter what Ancestry’s consumer-facing healthcare offerings amount to, we’ll likely see more large partnerships like this that will generate value from Ancestry’s huge stock of genetic data beyond the point of sale.
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