23andMe is one of three companies currently providing chip-based personal genomics assays, which provide information about up to a million sites of common variation throughout the human genome. These companies provide insight into a limited but informative slice of your genetic diversity, as I discussed yesterday, giving you information about variants contributing to the risk of a number of common diseases and other traits.
Since their launch earlier this year, 23andMe and competitor deCODEme have offered their genome scan services for a fraction under $1,000. Now 23andMe has announced a price slash, dropping their product down to $400.
The price reduction comes courtesy of advances in the genotyping technology from 23andMe’s provider, Illumina (I wrote about Illumina’s recent success back at my old site), which apparently allow the company to offer more genetic markers at a lower price. Details on precisely which markers have been added to the chip are still pretty thin on the ground, except to note that they were “either unavailable or unrecognized as significant markers” when the original platform was designed.
(Update: from the press release, it appears that the total number of markers assayed will remain around the same (550,000), but “will include a broader range of Single Nucleotide Polymorphism (SNP) variations and rare mutations not found on the previous Beadchip, thereby providing more relevant data on published associations, as well as maternal and paternal ancestry.” The “rare mutations” statement suggests that the new chip may target changes involved in diseases like cystic fibrosis, while the “maternal and paternal ancestry” refers to increased marker density in mitochondrial DNA and the Y chromosome, respectively. The latter change will certainly be popular with genetic genealogists.)
I imagine some of 23andMe’s early adopters are currently somewhat annoyed at the thought that if they’d waited a couple of months they’d be $600 better off. (I see Hsien at Eye on DNA had a similar thought – she asks whether recent 23andMe customers will get a refund off their purchase, like Amazon provided following a price drop for the Kindle.) However, I’m sure 23andMe will provide a discount for existing customers to upgrade to the new service – they promise to send out “information on how to upgrade in the next few weeks”.
You can expect to see similar price drops from 23andMe’s rivals, deCODEme and Navigenics – given how rapidly the price of genotyping technology is plummetting, it would be hard for them to find an excuse not to follow suit (Navigenics’ offering, at $2,500, is already laughably over-priced). A genuine price war can only be good news for consumers.
Of course, it will be difficult for any private company to compete price-wise with the Coriell Institute for Medical Research, which is currently offering personal genome scans free as part of its Personalized Medicine Collaborative. The Coriell admission process is considerably more onerous than signing up online for a 23andMe Spit Kit, requiring physical attendance at a collection centre, and the information that Coriell hands out is much more restricted (Coriell refuses to hand out results for anything but a handful of markers regarded as “potentially medically actionable” – so no predictions of Alzheimer’s disease risk, and also nothing as frivolous as ancestry markers). Still, the existence of a zero-cost competitor always makes a market a little edgy, as Andrew Yates recently argued forcefully over at ThinkGene. Interesting times…