In December, cancer genomics company Personalis, Inc. (NASDAQ:PSNL) of Menlo Park, Calif., achieved a milestone and delivered its 100,000th whole human genome sequence to the MVP, according to a news release, which also states that Personalis is the sole sequencing provider to the MVP.
The VA’s MVP program, which started in 2011, has 850,000 enrolled veterans and is expected to eventually involve two million people. The VA’s aim is to explore the role genes, lifestyle, and military experience play in health and human illness, notes the VA’s MVP website.
Health conditions affecting veterans the MVP is researching include:
The VA has contracted with Personalis through September 2021, and has invested $175 million, Clinical OMICS reported. Personalis has earned approximately $14 million from the VA. That’s about 76% of the company’s revenue, according to 2nd quarter data, Clinical OMICS noted.
Database of Veterans’ Genomes Used in Current Research
What has the VA gained from their investment so far? An MVP fact sheet states researchers are tapping MVP data for these and other veteran health-related studies:
Differentiating between prostate cancer tumors that require treatment and others that are slow-growing and not life-threatening.
How genetics drives obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
How data in DNA translates into actual physiological changes within the body.
Gene variations and patients’ response to Warfarin.
NIH Research Program Studies Effects of Genetics on Health
Another research program, the National Institutes of Health’s All of Us study, recently began returning results to its participants who provided blood, urine, and/or saliva samples. The NIH aims to aid research into health outcomes influenced by genetics, environment, and lifestyle, explained a news release. The program, launched in 2018, has biological samples from more than 270,000 people with a goal of one million participants.
The news release notes that more than 80% of biological samples in the All of Us database come from people in communities that have been under-represented in biomedical research.
“We need programs like All of Us to build diverse datasets so that research findings ultimately benefit everyone,” said Brad Ozenberger, PhD, All of Us Genomics Program Director, in the news release.
Precision medicine designed for specific healthcare populations is a goal of the All of Us program.
“[All of Us is] beneficial to all Americans, but actually beneficial to the African American race because a lot of research and a lot of medicines that we are taking advantage of today, [African Americans] were not part of the research,” Chris Crawford, All of US Research Study Navigator, told the Birmingham Times. “As [the All of Us study] goes forward and we get a big diverse group of people, it will help as far as making medicine and treatment that will be more precise for us,” he added.
Large Databases Could Advance Care
Genome sequencing technology continues to improve. It is faster, less complicated, and cheaper to sequence a whole human genome than ever before. And the resulting sequence is more accurate.
Thus, as human genome sequencing databases grow, researchers are deriving useful scientific insights from the data. This is relevant for clinical laboratories because the new insights from studying bigger databases of genomic information will produce new diagnostic and therapeutic biomarkers that can be the basis for new clinical laboratory tests as well as useful diagnostic assays for anatomic pathologists.
Operations ended last week after reports suggested the end came as a result of misalignment of goals among investors in a lab company many considered to be successful
One contributing factor the surprise announcement that the owners of Claritas Genomics were closing the clinical laboratory company may have been the struggle to get payers to reimburse its genetics test claims. If true, it is the latest market sign of how health insurers are making it difficult for labs to get paid for proprietary molecular diagnostic assays and genetic tests.
With no official announcement, Claritas Genomics quietly ended operations effective on Friday, Jan. 19. That evening, a spokeswoman for Claritas Genomics’ majority owner, Boston Children’s Hospital (BCH), confirmed for Dark Daily that the lab was closed and said no reason was given for the closing. More details may be forthcoming this week, she added.
As of the close of business on Tuesday, there was still no word from the genetics testing company founded in 2013. GenomeWeb was the first to report that Claritas Genomic’s diagnostic laboratories no longer do any testing. According to GenomeWeb, Brian Quirbach, former Clinical Testing Coordinator at Claritas Genomics, and part of the lab’s client services team, confirmed that the last day of business was Friday, Jan. 19. The BCH spokeswoman said the GenomeWeb article was accurate.
Asked if there had been a precipitating event at Claritas, if the company had experienced any serious business trouble, if it had struggled to get paid, or if payers were slow in paying, the spokeswoman declined to comment. Instead, she referred to the GenomeWeb article, saying it was mostly accurate.
Claritas Genomics a Casualty of Clinical Laboratory Price Wars
According GenomeWeb, Claritas was like other genetic testing laboratories that have long struggled to get health insurers to pay for rare disease tests. Also, Claritas and other genetic and molecular testing labs suffer financially as a direct result of the ongoing price wars among competing genetic testing lab companies.
“As a small company, it also wasn’t able to offer testing that did not come with potential patient payment obligations, which larger laboratories with better resources or payer contracts can do,” the GenomeWeb article noted.
According to GenomeWeb’s sources, Claritas had a reputation for delivering highly-accurate test results. The reason for this level of performance, the article noted, was Claritas’ use of two sequencing platforms, which lowered false-positive rates. The testing lab combined low false-positive rates with interpretations from WuXi NextCode. The clinical expertise available at BCH gave Claritas the best diagnostic exome in the industry in terms of technical quality and diagnostic power, one source told GenomeWeb.
The decision to close the company, the source noted, was a result of misalignment between investors at WuXi NextCode and BCH. Other sources speculated that Claritas and WuXi NextCode were considering a merger, which did not happen, GenomeWeb reported.
Ultimately, the source stated, BCH held the controlling interest and made the business decision to close the clinical laboratory company. And that the decision was unrelated to the lab’s quality.
Claritas’ clients were told, according to GenomeWeb, to download all test results and data by Thursday, Jan. 18, and that the lab’s operations manager would be available for a few weeks to answer customers’ questions.
Genetic Tests Developer for Pediatrics and Hereditary Disorders
Claritas, which was headquartered in Cambridge, Mass., had about 30 employees. When it was founded as a partnership between BCH and Life Technologies, its goal was to develop genetic and genomics-based diagnostic tests, primarily for pediatric patients with hereditary disorders.
In 2014, Dark Daily’s sister print publication The Dark Report (TDR) reported on the development of Claritas Genomics as an in-hospital lab that became independent. For 15 years, the lab operated as the genetic diagnostic laboratory at 396-bed BCH, we reported. (See The Dark Report, “Claritas Is Example of New Lab Business Model,” June 13, 2014.)
“As one of the hospital’s CLIA-certified laboratories, it provided the advanced molecular diagnostic testing services used by the hospital,” said Patrice M. Milos, PhD, who was Claritas Genomic’s CEO at the time.
At the 2014 Executive War College in New Orleans, Patrice Milos, PhD, then President and CEO, Claritas Genomics, spoke with Adam Slone, CEO, Slone Partners, about her path to becoming CEO of Claritas Genomics, how to foster a strong company culture, and what traits she looks for in a leadership team. Click on the photo above to watch the video interview. (Video copyright: Sloan Partners.)
In the early days of Claritas Genomics, BCH was challenged to provide the capital and resources needed for the molecular lab to grow, Milos said. “This was due to the rapid pace of genetic discovery, ongoing advances in gene sequencing technologies, and the difficult financial environment in healthcare,” she recalled. “Thus, to make it easier for the lab to grow, the hospital spun out the lab and created Claritas Genomics in February 2013.”
Informatics Tools to Support Clinical Use of Genetic Data
Further, this MVP was significant because Claritas benefited by generating cash flow, which it could use to acquire the gene sequencing system and staff expertise in next-generation sequencing (NGS) technologies. And, it developed the informatics infrastructure needed to collect, store, and analyze large volumes of genetic data, TDR reported.
Two months later, in December 2013, Claritas entered into a partnership with Cerner Corp. of Kansas City, Mo., to build the tools and connectivity systems needed to integrate NGS-based diagnostic testing into healthcare data systems. Specifically, the companies said they would develop a system “for molecular diagnostics that is tailored to NGS workflows, which are more complex and generate much more data than traditional molecular diagnostic tests.”
At the time, Milos explained the role that Claritas would play in this partnership. “In terms of this collaboration, one barrier to the use of genomics in medicine is the challenge of integrating the complex information derived from large-scale genomic measurements into a patient’s medical record and clinical practice,” he said. “Our mutual goal is to develop the informatics tools that support clinical use of genetic data.”
Claritas also was working with other pediatric institutions, such as Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, to advance clinical knowledge in a number of ways. “For example, we are facilitating a research network by connecting patients with experts who can provide care and by licensing assays from the hospitals where the discoveries that lead to diagnostic tests are made,” Milos said. “Also, in this business model, we can receive investment from outside sources, such as we have from two of our Series A investors, Life Technologies and Cerner.”
The abrupt closure of Claritas Genomics makes this clinical laboratory company the latest to disappear from the marketplace. The mystery factor in this case is why a company viewed by many as establishing a credible reputation for itself came to such a sudden end.
Veterans Administration calls it a “genomics game changer” and is now building a treasure trove of data for health researchers, including pathologists
Imagine a massive data repository that contains the blood specimens and genetic information of thousands of individuals, along with a detailed medical history for each patient that may reach back as far as 20 years! Such a data repository, long the dream of many pathologists and clinical laboratory scientists, will soon become a reality.