Two App Marketplaces Ramping Up Consumer Genomics Offerings

Two personal genome app marketplaces—Sequencing.com (San Francisco, Calif.) and Helix (San Carlos, Calif.)—are now up and running offering consumers a combined total of 55 products for purchase. While both companies are optimistic about the potentially explosive growth of the nascent industry, analysts still question the sustainability of initial demand, how regularly curious customers will engage with these apps, and how the marketplaces will overcome privacy concerns and the challenge of reliably, yet simply, communicating complex information.

"Genomics apps are very much an emerging market," Brandon Colby M.D., the founder and CEO of Sequencing.com, tells DTET. "We launched Sequencing.com not even a year ago and it has grown very rapidly because of demographics. Millions of people have had their genomes sequenced, and they want added value beyond that initial result. The full value has not been unlocked and they are trying to find it."

Sequencing.com
In addition to providing tools to curious consumers, Sequencing.com seeks to solve many of the challenges early players in the sequencing field face. The company says it provides researchers a source of genetic data through customers ("altruists") who donate their genetic data and provides laboratories a secure storage solution for all of their genetic data.

Sequencing.com now has 35 apps, mostly developed by third parties, and is expecting to double the number of available apps in 2018, while reaching hundreds of thousands of users by the end of 2017 and approaching millions of users "rapidly" after that.

Users can import genetic data from companies like 23andMe, Ancestry.com, GeneDx, Illumina, National Geographic, and Sequencing.com converts the data into a format optimized for the specific purchased app. Or, if users have not yet had their DNA sequenced, Sequencing.com has a list of preferred providers offering testing services (like Dante Labs and Genomics Personalized Health).

Sequencing.com offers developers a "simple and fair" arrangement, with 75 percent of revenue going to the developer. The app developer sets prices with current apps ranging in price from free to $199.

While the company classifies early growth as "organic," it recently started partnering with laboratories, which is expected to substantially grow the user base. Laboratories inform their customer about sequencing.com and provide a user ID and password. Sequencing.com provides safe storage of the laboratory’s genetic data and whenever a file is used to generate revenue (the laboratory’s client buys an app through the marketplace), the laboratory receives royalties. Additionally, the company is exploring a subscription- pricing model in which clients receive updates on a regular basis as knowledge of genetic variants evolves.

Helix
Illumina-backed Helix, which launched in late July with 20 apps, operates slightly differently. A customer’s first purchase on Helix.com requires a saliva collection kit that has a one-time cost of $80. The saliva sample is analyzed in Helix’s CLIA- and CAP-accredited sequencing laboratory (in San Diego) using the proprietary Exome+ assay, which sequences all 22,000 protein- coding genes.

The data is securely stored and the user can then order products from marketplace. Helix securely shares the relevant portion of the DNA data with the app partner, when ordered by the user. Like Sequencing.com, Helix offers products covering ancestry, entertainment, family, fitness, wellness, health, and nutrition. Helix also offers customers access to independent genetic counseling before or after ordering any app, through Genome Medical.

Looking Forward
Last year, a survey by financial services firm UBS found that the majority of 1,000 Americans questioned were aware of consumer genomic tests, but only five percent said they had been tested on their own initiative for nonclinical purposes. But substantially more—half of those questioned—reported being open to pursuing future testing.

"Our understanding of how DNA impacts health and wellness is advancing rapidly and we are moving towards an era where insights from your DNA will be essential to how you live and the decisions you make, from the moment you wake up until the minute you go to sleep," said Helix’s CEO Robin Thurston in a statement. "The Helix marketplace makes this possible by providing an open platform for emerging and established businesses who can now build or enhance their products with DNA sequenced at our state-of-the-art CLIA- and CAP-accredited lab."

Colby says that there is "limitless growth potential" when developers focus on unique integration of genetic data into popular apps used daily (e.g., weather forecasts cross-referenced with genetic information may look at sunburn risk and in real-time remind you to use sunscreen).

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) still has not offered final guidance on how it will regulate the growing mobile health market.

"Our app market is not a laboratory and it is not offering genetic testing," Colby explains. "We are a software platform that transforms data from existing genetic data. The same regulatory landscape [faced by 23andMe] would not apply because of the clear differentiation that we are not functioning as a laboratory and we are not licensed as a laboratory."

However, Colby adds, "if an app is specifically for clinical use—for diagnosis or treatment—then it may fall under the guise of the FDA, as it should.

Takeaway: The two consumer genomic app marketplaces, Sequencing. com and Helix, are optimistic that curiosity of the empowered health consumer will drive growth in this emerging market.

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