Combining consumers’ health data, including clinical laboratory test results, to genetic data for predispositions to chronic diseases could be key to developing targeted drugs and precision medicine treatments

Genetic testing company 23andMe is beta testing a method for combining customers’ private health data—including clinical laboratory test results and prescription drug usage—with their genetic data to create the largest database of its kind.

Such information—stored securely but accessible to 23andMe for sale to pharmaceutical companies for drug research and to diagnostics developers—would place 23andMe in a market position even Apple Health cannot claim.

Additionally, given the importance of clinical lab test data—which makes up more than 70% of a patient’s medical records—it’s reasonable to assume that innovative medical laboratories might consider 23andMe’s move a competitive threat to their own efforts to capitalize on combining lab test results with patients’ medical histories, drug profiles, and demographic data.

23andMe plans to use third-party medical network Human API to collect and manage the data. Involvement in the beta test is voluntary and currently only some of the genetic company’s customers are being invited to participate, CNBC reported.

Apple Healthcare, 23andMe, and Predicting Disease

The announcement did not go unnoticed by Apple, which has its own stake in the health data market. Apple Healthcare’s product line includes:

  • Mobile device apps for using at point-of-care in hospitals;
  • iPhone apps that let customers store and share their medical and pharmaceutical histories and be in contact with providers;
  • ResearchKit, which lets researchers build specialized apps for their medical research;
  • CareKit, which lets developers build specialized monitoring apps for patients with chronic conditions; and
  • Apple Watch, which doubles as a medical device for heart monitoring.

What Apple does not have is genetic data, which is an issue.

An Apple Insider post notes, “As structured, 23andMe’s system has advantages over Apple’s system including not just genetic data, but insights into risks for chronic disease.”

This is significant. The ability to predict a person’s predisposition to specific chronic diseases, such as cancer, is at the heart of Precision Medicine. Should this capability become not only viable and reliable but affordable as well, 23andMe could have a sizeable advantage in that aspect of the health data market.

Anne Wojcicki (above) is CEO and co-founder of 23andMe. The genetic company is inviting some of its customers to combine their medical information—including clinical laboratory test results and medication histories—with their stored genetic data. Customers would have access to the combined data and be able to share it with providers. In exchange, 23andMe gets to sell it to pharmaceutical companies and diagnostics developers. If successful and popular with the eight to 10-million people who have reportedly purchased its test kits, 23andMe could produce a significant source of revenue. (Photo copyright: Inc.)

Genetic Test Results Combined with Clinical Laboratory Test Results

23andMe is hopeful that after people receive their genetic test results, they will then elect to add their clinical laboratory results, medical histories, and prescription drug information to their accounts as well. 23andMe claims its goal is to provide customers with easy, integrated access to health data that is typically scattered across multiple systems, and to assist with medical research.

“It’s a clever move,” Ruby Gadelrab, former Vice President of Commercial Marketing at 23andMe who now provides consulting services to health tech companies, told CNBC. “For consumers, health data is fragmented, and this is a step towards helping them aggregate more of it.”

CNBC also reported that Gadelrab said such a database “might help 23andMe provide people with information about their risks for complex, chronic ailments like diabetes, where it’s helpful for scientists to access a data-set that incorporates information about individual health habits, medications, family history and more.”

Of course, it bears saying that the revenue generated from cornering the market on combined medical, pharmaceutical, and genetic data from upwards of 10-million customers would be a sizable boon to the genetic test company.

CNBC reported that “the company confirmed that it’s a beta program that will be gradually rolled out to all users but declined to comment further on its plans. The service is still being piloted, said a person familiar with the matter, and the product could change depending on how it’s received.”

Will 23andMe Have to Take on Apple?

23andMe already earns a large portion of its revenue through research collaborations with pharmaceutical companies, and it hopes to leverage those collaborations to produce new drug therapies, CNBC reported.

This new venture, however, brings 23andMe into competition with Apple on providing a centralized location from where consumers can access and share their health data. But it also adds something that Apple does not have—genetic data that can provide insight into consumers’ predispositions to certain diseases, which also can aid in the development of precision medicine treatments for those diseases.

Whether Apple Healthcare perceives 23andMe’s encroachment on the health data market as a threat remains to be seen.

Nevertheless, this is another example of a prominent company attempting to capitalize on marketable customer information. Adding medical information to its collected genetic data could position 23andMe to generate significant revenue by selling the merged data to pharmaceutical companies and diagnostics developers, while also helping patients easily access and share their data with healthcare providers. 

It’s a smart move, and those clinical laboratory executives developing ways to produce revenue from their lab organization’s patient lab test data will want to watch closely as 23andMe navigates this new market.

—JP Schlingman

Related Information:

23andMe is Moving into Apple’s Territory with a Pilot to Pull in Medical Data, Not Just DNA

23andMe Venturing onto Apple’s Turf with Health Data Collection

Give All the Data

23andMe Already Has Millions of People’s DNA. Now It Wants Their Health Data Too.

23andMe Wants to Collect Users’ Medical Data, Stepping into Apple’s Territory

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Apple’s Update of Its Mobile Health App Consolidates Data from Multiple EHRs and Makes It Easier to Push Clinical Laboratory Data to Patients