23andMe executives say they plan to leverage their database of millions of customer genotypes ‘tohelp accelerate personalized healthcare at scale,’ a key goal of precision medicine
In what some financial analysts believe may be an indication that popularity of direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic testing among customers who seek info on their ethnic background and genetic predisposition to disease is waning, personal genomics/biotechnology company 23andMe announced it has completed its merger with Richard Branson’s VG Acquisition Corp. (NYSE:VGAC) and is now publicly traded on NASDAQ.
According to a 23andMe news release, “The combined company is called 23andMe Holding Co. and will be traded on The Nasdaq Global Select Market (“NASDAQ”) beginning on June 17, 2021, under the new ticker symbol ‘ME’ for its Class A Common shares and ‘MEUSW’ for its public warrants.”
Now that it will file quarterly earnings reports, pathologists and clinical laboratory managers will have the opportunity to learn more about how 23andMe serves the consumer market for genetic types and how it is generating revenue from its huge database containing the genetic sequences from millions of people.
After raising $600 million and being valued at $3.5 billion, CNBC reported that 23andMe’s shares rose by 21% during its first day of trading.
Might the quick rise in its stock price be a sign that 23andMe—with its database of millions of human genotypes—has found a lucrative path forward in drug discovery?
23andMe says that 80% of its 10.7 million genotyped customers have consented to sharing their data for research, MedCity News reported, adding that, “The long-term focus for 23andMe still remains using all of its accumulated DNA data to strike partnerships with pharmaceutical companies.”
Time for a New Direction at 23andMe
While 23andMe’s merger is a recent development, it is not a surprising direction for the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company, which launched in 2006, to go.
Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, both 23andMe and its direct competitor Ancestry had experienced a decline in direct-to-consumer testing sales of at-home DNA and genealogy test kit orders. This decline only accelerated during the pandemic.
Meanwhile, 23andMe Therapeutics, a division focused on research and drug development, has been on the rise, Bloomberg News reported. On its website, 23andMe said it has ongoing studies in oncology, respiratory, and cardiovascular diseases.
“It’s kind of an ideal time for us,” Wojcicki told Bloomberg News.
“As an early investor, I have seen 23andMe develop into a company with enormous growth potential. Driven by Anne’s vision to empower consumers, and with our support, I’m excited to see 23andMe make a positive difference to many more people’s lives,” he added.
Report Bullish on Consumer Genetic Testing
Despite the apparent saturation of the direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic testing market, and consumers’ concerns about privacy, Infiniti Research reported that worldwide sales of DTC tests “are poised to grow by $1.39 bn during 2021-2025, progressing at a CAGR [compound annual growth rate] of over 16% during the forecast period.”
“This study identifies the advances in next-generation genetic sequencing as one of the prime reasons driving the direct-to-consumer genetic testing market growth during the next few years. Also, reduction in the cost of services and growing adoption of online service platforms will lead to sizable demand in the market,” the report states.
Clinical laboratory leaders will want to stay abreast of 23andMe rise as a publicly-traded company. It will be interesting to see if Wojcicki’s vision about moving therapies into clinics in five years comes to fruition.
It has been regularly demonstrated in recent decades that human breath contains elements that could be incorporated into clinical laboratory tests, so the decision to use this “breath biopsy” test in a therapeutic drug trial will be closely watched
Anatomic pathologists and medical laboratory leaders will be intrigued by GSK’s integration of breath-based specimens in a clinical trial of a respiratory drug. The partners in the trial aim to analyze breath samples to better understand the drug’s treatment effects and to discover personalized medicine (AKA, precision medicine) opportunities.
GSK (NYSE:GSK), headquartered in the UK but with a large presence in the US, researches and develops pharmaceutical medicines, vaccines, and other consumer health products.
Owlstone Medical, a diagnostic company, is developing a breathalyzer for disease and says it is on a mission to save 100,000 lives and $1.5 billion in healthcare costs. Dark Daily previously reported on Owlstone Medical’s Breath Biopsy platform. The Cambridge, England-based company has raised significant funding ($23.5 million) and already garnered credible cancer trial collaborators including the UK’s National Health Service (NHS).
Now, Owlstone Medical has brought its breath analysis technology to bear on chronic disease outside of cancer diagnostics development. A pharmaporum article called Owlstone’s Medical’s work with GSK an “additional boost of confidence” in the company’s technology, as well as a means for revenue.
Billy Boyle, co-founder and Chief Executive Officer, Owlstone Medical (above), shown with the company’s ReCIVA Breath Sampler device. This will be used by GSK in its Phase II respiratory disease clinical trial of danirixin to “capture VOC biomarkers in breath samples.” (Photo copyright: Business Weekly UK.)
GSK Studying Future Treatments for Respiratory Diseases
COPD affects about 700 million people worldwide, an increase of about 65% since 1990, GSK pointed out. In September 2017, GSK presented respiratory disease data and its pipeline medications at the European Respiratory Society in Milan, Italy. Included was information on danirixin (an oral CXCR2 antagonist), which is part of the company’s focus on COPD disease modification, according to a GSK news release.
“Each of our studies sets the bar for our future research and innovation,” noted Neil Barnes, MA Cantab, FRCP, FCCP(Hon), Vice President, Global Franchise Medical Head, GSK Respiratory, in the GSK press release.
Clinical Trial Aimed at Identifying the ‘Right’ Patients
With Owlstone Medical’s breathalyzer, GSK plans to explore how volatile organic compounds (VOCs) can help identify patients who will benefit most from the company’s medications, as well as evaluate Danirixin’s effects. A critical element of personalized medicine.
“It’s part of our efforts to identify the right patient for the right treatment,” said Ruth Tal-Singer, PhD, GSK’s Vice President of Medicine Development Leader and Senior Fellow, Respiratory Research and Development, in the Owlstone Medical news release.
VOCs in breath will be captured in a non-invasive way from patients who wear Owlstone Medical’s ReCIVA Breath Sampler, which, according to Owlstone Medical, has CE-mark clearance, a certification noting conformity with European health and safety standards. The VOCs breath samples will then be sent to Owlstone Medical’s lab for high-sensitivity analysis.
“Non-invasive Breath Biopsy can establish a role in precision medicine applications such as patient stratification and monitoring treatment response,” said Billy Boyle, Owlstone Medical’s co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer.
VOC Biomarkers in Respiratory Disease
VOC profiles can be characteristic of COPD as well as other respiratory diseases including asthma, tuberculosis, and cystic fibrosis, reported Science/Business.
According to Owlstone Medical’s Website, VOCs are gaseous molecules produced by the human body’s metabolism that are suitable for Breath Biopsy. Their research suggests that exhaled breath reflects molecular processes responsible for chronic inflammation. Thus, VOCs captured through Breath Biopsy offer insight into respiratory disease biomarkers.
Breath also includes VOCs that originate from circulation, which can provide information on a patient’s response to medications.
How the Breath Biopsy Platform Works
Owlstone Medical’s platform relies on its patented Field Asymmetric Ion Mobility Spectrometry (FAIMS) technology, which “has the ability to rapidly monitor a broad range of VOC biomarkers from breath, urine and other bodily fluids with high sensitivity and selectivity,” according to the company’s website. During the process:
Gases are exchanged between circulating blood and inhaled fresh air in the lungs;
VOC biomarkers pass from the circulation system into the lungs along with oxygen, carbon dioxide, and other gases;
Exhaled breath contains exiting biomarkers.
It takes about a minute for blood to flow around the body. So, a breath sample during that time makes possible collection and analysis of VOC biomarkers from any part of the body touched by the circulatory system.
The medical analysis is enabled by software in the Owlstone Medical lab, Boyle told the Cambridge Independent.
“There’s an analogy with blood prints—you get the blood and can look for different diseases, and we’ve developed core hardware and technology to analyze the breath sample,” he said.
Another Breath Sample Device
The ReCIVA Breath Sampler is not the only breathalyzer focused on multiple diseases. Dark Daily reported on research conducted by Technion, Israel’s Institute of Technology, into a breath analyzer that can detect up to 17 cancers, and inflammatory and neurological diseases.
But Owlstone Medical stands out due, in part, to its noteworthy partners: the UK’s National Health Service, as well as the:
And now the company can add collaboration with GSK to its progress. Though some question the reliability of breath tests as biomarkers in the areas of sensitivity and specificity required for cancer diagnosis, Owlstone Medical appears to have the wherewithal to handle those hurdles. It is a diagnostics company that many pathologists and medical laboratory professionals may find worth watching.
Examples already exist of manufacturers agreeing to refund payments if their therapeutic drugs don’t benefit patients; Medical laboratories with proprietary tests may find this strategy effective at guaranteeing the clinical utility of their assays
If their medical devices, medical laboratory tests, or prescription drugs are not effective, will payers, patients, and doctors get refunds from the manufacturers of these products? Some experts predict that the increased emphasis on improved patient outcomes, and the need for healthcare enterprises to back up the clinical value of their services, could lead to money-back guarantees and reimbursements for treatment therapies.
Offering a refund for services if the patient does not benefit is a powerful and compelling way for a company to call attention to its confidence level in its products and services. (more…)
A 1999 case involving California phlebotomist charged with reusing needles resulted in similar widespread testing of thousands of patients
Because of possible exposure to HIV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C from a healthcare worker, thousands of patients treated in multiple hospitals in different states are being offered free clinical laboratory testing. This situation is attracting national media attention and is a reminder to pathologists and medical laboratory professionals of the increased transparency that is being given to different types of medical errors that expose patients to risk.