Jefferson Health, the Philadelphia-based hospital system, will offer free genetic testing to its 30,000 employees in a collaboration with DNA sequencing firm Color Genomics, the organizations tell Fortune. And more than 4,000 of them have already requested the kits.
“Jefferson has an almost 200-year-old history. In using our tested knowledge while thinking like a start-up company by partnering with a cutting-edge genomics company, we can unlock the key to personalizing health care in a way that patients can make informed decisions,” said Dr. Stephen Klasko, president of Thomas Jefferson University and CEO of Jefferson Health, in a statement.
Klasko and the Thomas Jefferson University Hospital’s Karen Knudsen, enterprise director of the NCI-Designated Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center, spoke with me about initiative and its goal of promoting personalized treatment for employees—as well as what sets it apart from increasingly popular at-home DNA testing services like 23andMe.
“This program is completely optional,” says Knudsen, addressing the specter of potential problems arising from an employer facilitating genomic data collection. Employees who chose to opt in can do so through two different routes: Take the Color test and then see one of the firm’s board-certified genetic counselors (for free), or consult with a board-certified cancer genetic experts at the Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center (also for free).
Klasko and Color CEO Othman Laraki point out that the genetic counseling component is critical, since patients may be overwhelmed or confused by a DNA screen that it’s directly tethered to expert advice on interpreting the results. At-home services have been criticized over concerns that the data presented doesn’t include enough expert context (not to mention privacy concerns).
The Color test itself is a spit test that analyzes 30 cancer risk genes, 30 genes associated with hereditary heart conditions, and 14 genes that determine how the body processes prescription medication and may help inform dosing choices. Taken together, those are conditions that can prove medically—and financially—costly for all parties involved, especially if they aren’t caught early.
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