Paternity tests find new market at retail

4/21/2008

SALT LAKE CITY —Rite Aid last month was the first to merchandise take-home paternity tests, potentially creating a new diagnostics category in the mass channel.

Rite Aid picked up the tests, marketed by Identigene, for all of its stores, excluding its New York locations, following a successful three-state test in California, Oregon and Washington.

According to Identigene, that three-state test beginning November 2007 marked the first time paternity testing was available at retail, and results exceeded expectations. “So much so…they proceeded with a nationwide launch of the product well ahead of their initial plan, which was for later this year,” Doug Fogg, chief operating officer of Identigene, told Drug Store News.

Suggested retail price for the Identigene DNA Paternity Test Collection Kit is $29.99, and a laboratory processing fee of $119, payable by credit card or money order, is assessed when the results are mailed to the lab.

Identigene had targeted turns of one test kit sold per store per month and had surpassed that target, Fogg said, though he declined to divulge by how much.

According to Fogg, 60 percent of the tests were sold to women in their 20s. “We also found that between 25 percent and 30 percent of those who are purchasing the test are not participants in the test,” he said. That opens the door to a whole other consumer not ordinarily exposed to paternity testing, Fogg added—a parent, grandparent or friend buying the kit.

Identigene initially advertised its test kits in local papers reaching the test markets, as well as regional print ads in such magazines as Cosmopolitan or Elle. The company plans to spend some $1 million promoting the product through 2008, Fogg said.

And while more women than men appear to be buying the test, a 2004 University of Washington survey found that substantially more men than women favor routine paternity testing when a baby is born. The survey found that just 32 percent of women favor such routine testing, compared with about half of men. A survey conducted by the American Association of Blood Banks, which certifies DNA testers, including Identigene, found that almost 391,000 paternity tests were ordered nationwide in 2004.

The test kit is not currently available in New York because that state’s Department of Health has very specific protocols for diagnostic testing, Fogg explained, requiring paternity tests to either be prescribed by a doctor or ordered by a court. “We will be talking with the Department of Health in the state of New York to see if there is some way that we can still make [the kits] available off the shelf,” he said. Retail clinics may be one option. “That may be an alternative distribution for us, but at his point, our primary focus has been on other states and general distribution.”

There are no other states with similar sales restrictions, Fogg said.

The test results are also not admissible as proof of paternity in any paternity suits, Fogg said, but not because of the test itself. Rather, it’s because there is no way to establish an unadulterated chain of custody from the test subject to the laboratory without involving an independent third party. “The laboratory process is identical; it’s the method of collection that differentiates between a private and a legal test,” Fogg said.

Thus far, approximately 5 percent of those who purchase the private test proceed with legal testing, Fogg said, suggesting that the private testing may be viewed as a less expensive first step in establishing paternity.

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