The human genome has not only been cracked, but commoditized. From incomprehensibly impossible to prohibitively expensive to banally retail, the science fiction fantasy of consumer genomics is here, and its implications are astounding…
Your smartphone can do just about anything found in a Radio Shack catalogue from the 90s, although sequencing your genome isn’t—yet—one of them.* But be patient, since back in 2003 it took the Human Genome Project over a decade and cost $2.7 billion, and now dozens of labs using innovative tech can efficiently crack your personal code for as little as $350.
The quick speed and low cost of systems like Illumina have already revolutionized drug research and personalized medicine, while also driving privacy and regulatory concerns regarding its consumerization. Challenges and opportunities are exponentially increasing, the company just announcing their goal of deciphering an entire genome in under an hour for $100.
Genomics companies remain mostly focused on pharma: assisting with drug discovery, personalized Rx, and research. Governmental initiatives such as the newly signed 21st Century Cures Act and its Precision Medicine Initiative immediately benefit from the commoditization of genetic testing, sequencing at the heart of the Cancer Moonshot and immunotherapeutic research. Applications beyond oncology also abound, next generation treatments on the horizon.
But consumer adoption is hampered by market accessibility, and integration into personal and professional digital health systems. If the tumultuous journey of 23 and Me is any indication, the accuracy, relevance, security, and health literacy of tests are key. Who owns the data, how its communicated and shared, and what it means for health, wellness, treatment, and prevention are complex questions that remain a work-in-progress.
Despite the early hiccups, dozens of startups are tapping into the sequencing tech, providing services spanning the gamut from personalized health management and coaching plans to customized fitness and nutritional programs based on genotype. Designing diverse applications uniquely customized to each consumer’s code is intriguing, but the jury is out regarding their effectiveness—and consumers remain concerned about sharing their data.
Although consumer genomics is still in its infancy, the sheer momentum of personalized medicine, quantified health, and evolving user expectations will put pressure on regulatory and privacy challenges to find solutions. As digital health becomes increasingly ubiquitous making the point of care everywhere, the opportunity for genomics to play an ever-increasing role in every consumer’s health and wellness will prove irresistible. So far there’s no app for that, but likely soon. Is your brand ready?
*Aha! Quartz published this article today: Scientists have invented a tool that lets smartphones analyze DNA, and it could usher in a new era of healthcare #whoknew