A panel of entrepreneurs and health experts debated a quintessentially 21st century question at the 3rd annual Fortune Brainstorm Health conference in Laguna Niguel, CA on Monday: Should everybody have their genomes sequenced in the quest for “personalized medicine” and possibly preventing (or at least stymying) serious diseases?
For panelists Kathy Giusti, founder of the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (MMFR), and Othman Laraki, co-founder and CEO of genetic testing firm Color Genomics, the answer is clear. “I believe so,” Giusti told moderator Dr. David Agus. “There is now literally a positive return on investment for sequencing the entire population,” added Laraki.
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Laraki’s company, Color, specializes in cancer testing for BRCA gene mutations that may indicate a higher risk for breast, ovarian, and prostate cancers. The company has also been expanding its arsenal to genetic screenings for heart disease—including a new test announced Monday called the Hereditary Heart Health Test, which analyzes 30 genes that are among the biggest risk factors for eventual heart complications like abnormal cardiac rhythms that could turn deadly.
As both Giusti and Laraki highlighted, one of the biggest reasons genetic tests have become more popular is that they’ve plummeted in price. Once costing more than $5,000, companies like Color now offer their genomic services for around $250.
The ultimate hope is that a larger slice of the population will get their genes sequenced, too, whether to assist in drug research or alert them to possible health risks. But there are still some roadblocks. For instance, while 70 to 80-plus percent of many genetic testing firms’ customers consent to the use of their DNA data for research, the remaining 15% or 20% still have concerns about how that data will be utilized or how secure it is. And then there’s data hoarding, where this genetic information isn’t shared widely. “I belive [all that data should be liberated,” said Giusti.
As for the security concerns, Andreessen Horowitz general partner Vijay Pande says the issue is one of “information security in general.”