THE RISE OF GENETIC TESTING IN HEALTHCARE: How leading genetic testing companies like Ancestry and 23andMe are carving into healthcare with the promise to fuel more personalized care

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Since the first human genome was sequenced in 2003, the genetic testing market has evolved rapidly alongside consumers' interest in how their genetic makeup affects their health.

The human genome was sequenced — or read in its entirety — for the first time in 2003 after more than 20 years of work and nearly $5 billion was put into the National Institutes of Health's (NIH's) Human Genome Project — which marked a huge step in helping scientists and medical researchers understand how genes and gene interactions impact disease development and progression. In the ensuing decades, genetic information catapulted into mainstream healthcare, driven largely by the rapid decline in cost for DNA sequencing technology.

DNA testing firms like Ancestry and 23andMe broke onto the genetic testing scene via direct-to-consumer (DTC) tests, and consumers have flocked to their products seeking to gain insights into their individual health risks. Ancestry and 23andMe both offer cheaper, but less comprehensive, DNA testing — their products come at a price point between $100-$200, which is likely more enticing to average consumers than higher-cost tests that explore the entire, or a larger portion of, the genome.

Of the 26 million global consumers who took a DNA test in 2019, Ancestry and 23andMe tested 25 million. This marks a meteoric rise in consumer adoption over the course of the 2010s: In 2015, for example, fewer than 1.5 million global consumers had taken at-home genetic tests. 

The ability to provide genetic tests at a lower cost has opened up new opportunities in preventative medicine. For example, chronic illness accounts for 90% of the US' more than $3.7 trillion of annual healthcare spending — and healthcare stakeholders are actively looking for ways to assess population health risks and intervene earlier. Genetic testing is an attractive proposition for healthcare players that want to paint a picture of an individual patient's health risks — and use that information to help guide care plans that could mitigate the development or progression of a condition and steer drug development for more precise medications.

In this report, Insider Intelligence will examine the industry forces that have helped evolve genomic information from a consumer novelty to a transformative healthcare technology. We outline how some of the key players in the genetic testing space have altered their business models to appeal not only to consumers but also healthcare players across the industry, including health systems and pharma companies. We provide a glimpse at what's next for the implementation of genomic information — namely, the barriers that are holding genetic testing companies back from reaching new customers, including how the coronavirus pandemic could impact growth in the space.

The companies mentioned in this report are: 23andMe, Almirall, Ancestry, Apple, Calico, Color, Diploid, Genelex, GlaxoSmithKline, Google, Helix, Illumina, Invitae, Jungla, LunaPBC, Mayo Clinic, Microsoft, MyHeritage, NorthShore University Hospital , Novartis, Ochsner Health, Pfizer, PWNHealth, Salesforce, Stanford Medicine, TrialSpark, Verily, Veritas, and YouScript.

Here are some key takeaways from this report: 

  • The use of at-home, direct-to-consumer genetic tests skyrocketed during the 2010s, but has been tapering off over the last couple of years. 
  • The slowdown in the DTC market has catalyzed genetic testing companies to veer into healthcare — teaming up to give legacy healthcare players access to rich sets of data that could guide care and treatments, which could help boost customer bases. 
  • Health systems can add genetic testing into care regimens to gain a more comprehensive image of patients' health risks. Payers can front the costs of tests for their members, the results of which could empower them to take proactive approach to care management and reduce costs in the long-run; and drug-makers can unlock troves of genetic data in order to design more precise medications.
  • Myriad barriers are still holding back genetic testing companies from cementing their position in the healthcare industry, including privacy and accuracy concerns, the inability of healthcare professionals to operationalize genetic data, and a continued drop in consumer interest. 
  • The coronavirus pandemic and accompanied economic slowdown could weigh on genetic testing companies further, as consumers will likely put off nonessential purchases like genetic tests, and healthcare companies may focus resources and time on initiatives more directly related to the virus and recouping lost revenue.

In full, the report: 

  • Provides an overview of the ways in which prominent US genetic testing companies are using their products to edge deeper into the healthcare landscape.
  • Highlights how leading telehealth vendors have reacted to a sudden, rapid uptick in adoption of their services.
  • Outlines how legacy healthcare players — including health systems, payers, and drug-makers — are leveraging genetic testing companies' products to make use of insights into genetic variants.
  • Identifies the barriers that genetic companies are staring down that could hinder growth and adoption. 

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