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Expanding genetic tests to retail setting


Is there a place for genetic testing in the retail pharmacy setting? Absolutely, said John Ward, VP international and retail marketing for 23andMe.

(Click here to download the full Retail Health Summit special report.)

Named for the 23 pairs of chromosomes in human cells, 23andMe was founded in 2006 to provide at-home, easy-to-use genetic testing kits. Consumers simply provide a saliva sample and mail the kit back to the company’s lab for results.

“The idea is to help people understand diseases they might be at risk for, and make recommendations about ways they can live ... healthier, longer, happier lives,” Ward told the health technology panel. He said the company has traditionally sold the kit online, but is now making it available at retail.

Given advances in genomics and steady reductions in costs, the migration to retail is a natural shift, Ward said. “When we launched 10 years ago, our kit was $1,000, and ... you’d get 14 reports. As the cost of genetics and computing have come down, it’s now $199, and you get 60 reports.”

As of mid-2016, 23andMe had sold some 1.2 million tests, Ward said. Driving that widespread adoption is “a convergence of technology,” with millions of Americans now “wearing trackers, getting genetic tests and using higi [self-diagnostic kiosks]. And the healthcare system is tapping into that.”

Challenges remain. “Even physicians don’t know that much about genetics. So our challenge has been trying to make our reports understandable by consumers,” Ward said. In addition, he said, the company’s test yields “10 pharmacogenomic reports” that could help pharmacists help their patients manage their health and wellness, “if there was a way to get those into your pharmacy’s decision system.”

“That hasn’t happened yet,” he added. “So a convergence of the system is really important.”

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