Added in edit: for superb analysis of the announcement from multiple angles, you should also check out Dan Vorhaus’ three incisive articles on Genomics Law Report.
Personal genomics company 23andMe announced yesterday on its blog (and in an email to customers) of impending changes to its product line. Until now 23andMe has offered only two products: its $399 full scan, and a $99 Research Revolution product that offers limited functionality and a focus on common disease risk prediction.
There are two major components of the altered product line. Firstly, customers will now be able to purchase separate products focusing on health and ancestry: the Ancestry Edition ($399) will focus on ancestry and genealogy analyses, while the Health Edition ($429) will provide risk predictions for common diseases and provide an updated line of carrier testing for rare, severe, recessive mutations relevant to reproductive decisions. It sounds as though 23andMe plans to move more extensively into the carrier testing market:
We are expanding our cystic fibrosis panel report to cover the full panel of mutations recommended by the American College of Medical Genetics, as well as several additional mutations. We will also be providing data for most of the mutations routinely screened for in the Ashkenazi Jewish population, including those associated with Tay-Sachs disease, Canavan disease and Bloom’s syndrome.
Finally, the company will still be offering its full scan to customers, but at an increased price of $499. If you want to get the full scan at the current price of $399 you have only a few days to order: the price hike comes into effect on November 19th.
The separation of products comes as no great surprise: this is a route already adopted by new personal genomics provider Pathway Genomics
, and is a recognition that personal genomics customers occupy a variety of niches. In particular, there is a hefty contingent of genetic genealogists who are keen on the ancestry and family-tracing potential of genome scans but have much less interest in the health aspects. Other customers see genetic information as a way to inform health decisions and see ancestry genetics as a frivolous distraction (this is the market that Navigenics
has targeted since launching
with its no-nonsense health-only approach).
The increase in the price of the full scan, however, is a shock to those of us expecting a consistent decrease in the cost of personal genomics products, and suggests that the two rounds of lay-offs from the company this year were indeed driven by cash flow problems rather than mere restructuring.
23andMe is certainly not the first company to diversify its product line. I’ve already mentioned Pathway Genomics above; deCODEme
has long offered separate products using specific panels of markers to target particular sets of diseases (e.g. its Cancer Scan
), while Navigenics offers a pretty horrible discount product
to attract customers who can then upgrade to their full version.
However, until now 23andMe has been steadfast in its insistence that personal genomics customers should see everything that their genome yields, not just fragments of it – the consistent subtext being that the whole raison d’etre of personal genomics should be the pursuit of broad intellectual curiosity and self-exploration rather than a desire to look purely for information relevant to health or some other specific interest. That ideal now appears to yielding to market forces.
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