If direct-to-consumer testing continues to attract healthcare consumers and financial investors, medical laboratories could have a new source of revenue
Many have tried but few have found the right formula to
offer medical laboratory tests directly to consumers. Direct-to-consumer lab
testing as a robust business model has been an elusive goal. But now one
entrepreneur wants to crack this market and just attracted $50 million in
venture capital to fund her idea!
Outsiders often establish industries. This was the case when Jeff Bezos created Amazon in 1994. The online retailer transformed the way books were sold and, subsequently, established a massive new retail market.
Along the same lines, Julia Taylor Cheek, Founder and CEO of EverlyWell, a well-financed digital health company based in Austin—hopes to build a similarly disruptive business in the clinical laboratory industry.
Cheek is increasing her company’s outreach to consumers by
putting some of the company’s direct-to-consumer (DTC) medical tests on store
shelves at CVS and Target.
A former consultant and Harvard Business School graduate, Cheek raised $50 million in financing to expand EverlyWell’s digital platform. According to a news release, “Just two full years into operation, EverlyWell is reporting 300% year-over-year customer growth and a world-class consumer Net Promoter Score (NPS).”
“I think it’s a representation of sexism in our space. There are 15 other companies that have popped up in blood testing and you don’t hear anyone comparing Theranos to those male-founded startups,” she told Inc.
However, Dark Daily believes Cheek may be missing one
basis for the comparison with Elizabeth Holmes. Holmes intended for Theranos to
serve consumers with lab testing, and let consumers order and purchase their
own medical laboratory tests. Cheek is talking about the same primary business
strategy of letting consumers purchase their own lab tests.
Armed with this additional financing from investors, EverlyWell intends to expand services and develop new partnerships with retail pharmacy chain CVS Health (NYSE:CVS) and for-profit insurance company Humana (NYSE:HUM).
The news release notes, “The company has also expanded its
product line to offer 35 panels, including first-to-market tests in fertility,
vitamins, peri- and post-menopause, and high-risk HPV. In addition, EverlyWell
has launched an end-to-end care model for consumers, now offering an
independent physician consult and prescription, if appropriate, for select STDs
and Lyme Disease testing. All of this is included in an upfront price before
EverlyWell Intent on
Bringing Medical Laboratory Tests to Retail
Earlier this year, EverlyWell made nine lab tests available in more than 1,600 Target store locations, MedCity News reported. This may suggest that retailers are intrigued with direct-to-consumer lab testing.
Cheek reportedly established EverlyWell after becoming
disenchanted with medical laboratory tests that she felt were not well
explained and too costly under high-deductible health plans.
Just two years on, EverlyWell reports “hundreds of thousands of customers and tens of millions in sales.” The company plans to add additional staff on top of its existing 70 employees in anticipation of the new funding, Austin Business Journal reports.
“We are building a consumer brand, which means we have to be where people shop. We need to be in places like CVS and Target to really allow for broader distribution and name recognition,” Cheek told the Austin American-Statesman.
What Draws People to EverlyWell?
EverlyWell offers home health test kits, priced from $49 to
$400 that people can order without a doctor’s prescription and pay for online. Users
take their samples (saliva, urine, or a pinprick of blood) with provided
lancets and cotton swabs, MedCity News
EverlyWell’s top selling tests are:
Vitamin D deficiency-$99.
EverlyWell says it is “first” in direct-to-consumer tests
EverlyWell Test kits come with registration information, instructions, collection tools;
Biological samples are sent by consumers to CLIA (Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments)-certified labs that partner with EverlyWell;
Results are generally completed within 10 days depending on type of test and business volume;
A physician reviews the test results;
Reports on test results are electronically accessible through smartphone apps and online web dashboards.
“Lab testing is arguably one of the most important steps in preventing and managing illness but has been largely ignored by digital health companies. EverlyWell is successfully navigating an entrenched industry to offer consumers an opportunity to take charge of their own health,” said Eric Kim, Managing Partner at Goodwater Capital (which led the financing), in the news release.
“We’re building the definitive technology-enabled healthcare platform that consumers deserve and have already come to expect in other areas of their lives,” Cheek told VentureBeat. “As high-deductible plans become the norm, consumers are becoming discerning buyers who look for seamless, digitally enabled experiences.”
Of course, pathologists and medical laboratory professionals
will watch to see if EverlyWell can sustain its rapid rise in popularity with
healthcare consumers. In particular, those consumers who prefer DTC testing
over traditional clinical laboratory visits and who may be on high-deductible
The DTC test market represents an opportunity that most
clinical laboratories have yet to take seriously. There are many reasons why
medical lab managers and pathologists would be taking a “wait and see”
attitude. Meanwhile, EverlyWell has $50 million of investors’ money to use to
demonstrate the financial viability of its strategy to encourage consumers to purchase
their own clinical laboratory tests—and even collect their own specimens at
CDC reports more than 93-million US adults are obese, and health issues related to obesity include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and cancers
In recent years, the role of the human microbiome in weight loss or weight gain has been studied by different research groups. There is keen interest in this subject because of the high rates of obesity, and diagnostic companies know that development of a clinical laboratory test that could assess how an individual’s microbiome affects his/her weight would be a high-demand test.
This is true of a study published this year in Mayo Clinic Proceedings. Researchers at Mayo Clinic looked at obese patients who were in an active lifestyle intervention program designed to help them lose weight. It was determined that gut microbiota can have a role in both hindering weight loss and supporting weight loss.
Gut Microbiota More Complicated than Previously Thought
The Mayo researchers determined “an increased abundance of Phascolarctobacterium was associated with [successful weight loss]. In contrast, an increased abundance of Dialister and of genes encoding gut microbial carbohydrate-active enzymes was associated with failure to [lose] body weight. A gut microbiota with increased capability for carbohydrate metabolism appears to be associated with decreased weight loss in overweight and obese patients undergoing a lifestyle intervention program.”
How do bacteria impede weight loss? Vandana Nehra, MD, Mayo Clinic Gastroenterologist and co-senior author of the study, explained in a news release.
“Gut bacteria have the capacity to break down complex food particles, which provides us with additional energy. And this is normally is good for us,” she says. “However, for some individuals trying to lose weight, this process may become a hindrance.”
Put another away: people who more effectively metabolized carbohydrates were the ones who struggled to drop the pounds, New Atlas pointed out.
Vandana Nehra, MD (left), and Purna Kashyap, MBBS (right), are Mayo Clinic Gastroenterologists and co-senior authors of the Mayo study. “While we need to replicate these findings in a bigger study, we now have an important direction to pursue in terms of potentially providing more individualized strategies for people who struggle with obesity,” Nehra noted in the news release. Thus, precision medicine therapy for obese individuals could be based on Mayo Clinic’s research. (Photo copyright: Mayo Clinic.)
Mayo Study Provides Clues to Microbiota Potential in Weight Loss
The Mayo researchers wanted to know how gut bacteria behave in people who are trying to lose weight.
They recruited 26 people, ranging in age from 18 to 65, from the Mayo Clinic Obesity Treatment Research Program. Fecal stool samples, for researchers’ analysis, were collected from participants at the start of the three-month study period and at the end. The definition of successful weight loss was at least 5% of body weight.
Nine people were successful, losing an average of 17.4 lbs.;
17 people did not meet the goal, losing on average just 3.3 lbs.; and,
More gut bacterial genes that break down carbohydrates were found in stool samples of the unsuccessful weight loss group, as compared to the successful dieters.
The researchers concluded that “An increased abundance of microbial genes encoding carbohydrate-active enzyme pathways and a decreased abundance of Phascolarctobacterium in the gut microbiota of obese and overweight individuals are associated with failure to lose at least 5% weight following a 3-month comprehensive lifestyle intervention program.”
Purna Kashyap, MBBS, Mayo Clinic Gastroenterologist and co-senior author of the study, told Live Science, “The study suggests there is a need to take the microbiome into account in clinical studies (on weight loss), and it also provides an important direction to pursue in terms of providing individualized care in obesity.” The very basis of precision medicine.
Future Weight-Loss Plans Based on Patient’s Microbiota
The Mayo Clinic researchers acknowledged the small sample size and need for more studies with larger samples over a longer time period. They also noted in their paper that Dialister has been associated with oral infections, such as gingivitis, and its role in energy expenditure and metabolism is unclear.
Still, the study suggests that it may soon be possible to give people individualized weight loss plans based on their gut bacteria. Clinical laboratory professionals and pathologists will want to stay abreast of follow-up studies and replication of findings by other research teams. A future medical laboratory test to analyze patients’ microbiomes could help obese people worldwide as well as lab business volume.
At least that’s what researchers at ETH Zurich (ETH), an international university for technology and natural sciences, have concluded. They published the results of their study in Cell.
“Here, we present a chemoproteomic workflow for the systematic identification of metabolite-protein interactions directly in their native environments,” the researchers wrote. “Our data reveal functional and structural principles of chemical communication, shed light on the prevalence and mechanisms of enzyme promiscuity, and enable extraction of quantitative parameters of metabolite binding on a proteome-wide scale.”
Interactomics address interactions between proteins and small molecules, according to an article published in Technology Networks. The terms “interactomics” and “omics” were inspired by research that described, for the first time, the interactions and relationships of all proteins and metabolites (A.K.A, small molecules) in the whole proteome.
Medical laboratories and anatomic pathologists have long understood the interactions among proteins, or between proteins and DNA or RNA. However, metabolite interactions with packages of proteins are not as well known.
These new omics could eventually be an important source of diagnostic biomarkers. They may, one day, contribute to lower cost clinical laboratory testing for some diseases, as well.
Metabolite-Protein Interactions are Key to Cellular Processes
The ETH researchers were motivated to explore the interplay between small molecules and proteins because they have important responsibilities in the body. These cellular processes include:
“Metabolite-protein interactions control a variety of cellular processes, thereby playing a major role in maintaining cellular homeostasis. Metabolites comprise the largest fraction of molecules in cells. But our knowledge of the metabolite-protein interaction lags behind our understanding of protein-protein or protein-DNA interactomes,” the researchers wrote in Cell.
Leveraging Limited Proteolysis and Mass Spectrometry
The researchers used limited proteolysis (LiP) technology with mass spectrometry to discover metabolite-protein interactions. Results aside, experts pointed out that the LiP technology itself is significant.
“It is one of the few methods that enables the unbiased and proteome-wide profiling of protein conformational changes resulting from interaction of proteins with compounds,” stated a Biognosys blog post.
Biognosys, a proteomics company founded in 2008, was originally part of a lab at ETH Zurich.
The ETH team focused on the E. coli bacterial cell in particular and how its proteins and enzymes interact with metabolites.
“Although the metabolism of E. coli and associated molecules is already very well known, we succeeded in discovering many new interactions and the corresponding binding sites,” Paola Picotti, PhD, Professor of Molecular Systems Biology at ETH Zurich, who led the research, told Technology Networks. “The data that we produce with this technique will help to identify new regulatory mechanisms, unknown enzymes and new metabolic reactions in the cell,” she concluded. (Photo copyright: ETH Zurich.)
More than 1,000 New Interactions Discovered
The study progressed as follows, according to Technology Networks’ report:
“Cellular fluid, containing proteins, was extracted from bacterial cells;
“Strikingly, more than 80% of the reported interactions were novel and about one quarter of the measured proteome interacted with at least one of the 20 tested metabolites. This indicates that the metabolite-protein interaction network is vast and largely uncharted,” Papp stated in an ETH Zurich Faculty of 1000 online article.
According to Technology Networks, “Picotti has already patented the method. The ETH spin-off Biognosys is the exclusive license holder and is now using the method to test various drugs on behalf of pharmaceutical companies.”
The pharmaceutical industry is reportedly interested in the approach as a way to ascertain drug interactions with cellular proteins and their effectiveness in patient care.
The ETH Zurich study is compelling, especially as personalized medicine takes hold and more medical laboratories and anatomic pathology groups add molecular diagnostics to their capabilities.
With $175 Million in Funding, Human Microbiome Project is Making Rapid Progress
Research into the human microbiome is expected to trigger development of new diagnostic tests that will be offered by clinical pathology laboratories. That’s because the organisms that live on us and in us are as unique to individuals as their DNA, and scientists believe these microbes may be just as important to health. Which microbes and how much they matter to the host’s health are the questions a consortium of researchers involved in the Human Microbiome Project (HMP) hope to answer.
This five-year, $157-million project, funded by the National Institutes of Health, will sequence and classify 900 microbes believed to play a role in human health. Analysis of the sequences of the first 178 microbes, which was published in the May 21 issue of Science, held some surprises, particularly in regard to the extent and complexity of microbial diversity. About 90% of their DNA was previously unknown. The study also identified novel genes and proteins that contribute to human health and disease.