As demand for DTC at-home genetic testing increases among consumers and healthcare professionals, clinical laboratories that offer similar assays may want to offer their own DTC testing program
Things are happening in the direct-to-consumer (DTC) medical laboratory testing market. Prior to the pandemic, the number of consumers interested in ordering their own diagnostic tests grew at a rapid rate. The SARS-CoV-2 outbreak, however, and the need for consumers to access COVID-19 tests, caused DTC test sales to skyrocket.
LetsGetChecked describes itself as a “virtual care company that allows customers to manage their health from home, providing direct access to telehealth services, pharmacy, and [clinical] laboratory tests with at-home sample collection kits for a wide range of health conditions,” according to the company’s LinkedIn page.
“Through these acquisitions, LetsGetChecked will leverage the power of whole genome sequencing to launch a full lifecycle of personalized healthcare, delivering the most comprehensive health testing and care solution on the market,” said Peter Foley, Founder and CEO of LetsGetChecked in a press release.
“By integrating Veritas Genetics’ and Veritas Intercontinental’s capabilities with LetsGetChecked’s scalable diagnostic and virtual care infrastructure, we are able to turn comprehensive genetic insights into practical recommendations and lifestyle changes, guided by clinical experts,” he added.
Leveraging the Power of Whole Genome Sequencing
To date, LetsGetChecked claims it has delivered nearly three million at-home direct-to-consumer tests and served more than 300 corporate customers with testing services and biometric screening solutions since its founding in 2015.
The company focuses on manufacturing, logistics, and lab analysis in its CAP-accredited, CLIA-certified laboratory in Monrovia, Calif., as well as physician support, and prescription fulfillment. The DTC company’s products include at-home tests for women’s health, men’s health, basic wellness, sexual health, and SARS-CoV-2 testing.
Veritas Genetics also was a DTC testing company co-founded by internationally-known geneticist George Church, PhD. In 2016, the company announced it would deliver a whole human genome sequence (WGS) for just $999—breaking the $1,000 cost barrier for whole genome sequencing.
“There is no more comprehensive genetic test than your whole genome,” Rodrigo Martinez, former Veritas Chief Marketing and Design Officer, told CNBC. “So, this is a clear signal that the whole genome is basically going to replace all other genetic tests. And this [price drop] gets it closer and closer and closer.”
That market strategy did not succeed. By the end of 2019, the company announced it would cease operations in the United States but continue operations in Europe and Latin America. It has sought a buyer for the company since that time. Now, almost three years later, LetsGetChecked will become the new owner of Veritas Genetics.
Veritas’ primary product, myGenome was launched in 2018 as a whole genome sequencing and interpretation service to help consumers improve their health and increase longevity. The myGenome test screens for and provides insight on many hereditary diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, and neurological disorders. It also provides observations on more than 50 personal traits and ancestry information.
In addition to bringing whole genome sequencing abilities to its test offerings for consumers, LetsGetChecked hopes the acquisitions will create new testing capabilities such as pharmacogenomics, cancer and viral screenings, and maternal fetal screenings.
“By integrating Veritas Genetics’ and Veritas Intercontinental’s genetics offering with our scalable virtual care infrastructure, we are able to leverage the power of whole genome sequencing to launch a full lifecycle of personalized healthcare, which has always been our goal,” Foley told MobiHealthNews.
Veritas Genetics and Veritas Intercontinental will continue to operate under the LetsGetChecked family of companies.
BioIQ also Acquired by LetsGetChecked
In early May, LetsGetChecked also acquired diagnostic testing and health improvement technology company BioIQ, which will continue to operate as a wholly-owned subsidiary.
BioIQ offers at-home tests, health screenings, and vaccinations to consumers. The company’s products include:
Heart health panel,
Prevention panel, and
Individual tests offered by BioIQ include:
Hepatitis C test and
Sexually transmitted diseases.
BioIQ also offer e-vouchers for health screenings and vaccinations at participating retail pharmacies, clinical laboratories, and physician’s offices.
“The future of healthcare is in providing high-quality at-home diagnostics and care that comprehensively serve an individual’s health needs throughout their whole life,” said Foley in a press release about the BioIQ acquisition. “With this acquisition, LetsGetChecked gains a trusted partner with an extensive knowledge base and a breadth of experience in serving health plans and employer markets to deliver healthcare solutions at scale.”
These acquisitions by LetsGetChecked demonstrate how genetic testing companies are pivoting to new strategies. Clinical laboratories that perform genetic testing will want to monitor how these partnerships unfold in the future as healthcare consumers and providers continue to embrace at-home genetic testing.
“There is no more comprehensive genetic test than your whole genome,” Rodrigo Martinez, Veritas’ Chief Marketing and Design Officer, told CNBC. “So, this is a clear signal that the whole genome is basically going to replace all other genetic tests. And this [price drop] gets it closer and closer and closer.”
Pathologists and clinical laboratory managers will want to watch to see if Veritas’ low-priced, $599 whole-genome sequencing becomes a pricing standard for the genetic testing industry. Meanwhile, the new price includes not only the sequencing, but also an expert analysis of test results that includes information on more than 200 conditions, Veritas says.
“The focus in our industry is shifting from the cost of sequencing genomes to interpretation capabilities and that’s where our secret sauce is,” said Veritas CEO Mirza Cifric in a news release. “We’ve built and deployed a world class platform to deliver clinically-actionable insights at scale.” The company also says it “achieved this milestone primarily by deploying internally-developed machine learning and AI [artificial intelligence] tools as well as external tools—including Google’s DeepVariant—and by improving its in-house lab operations.”
The myGenome service offers 30x WGS, which Veritas touts in company documentation as the “gold standard” for sequencing, compared to the less-precise 0.4x WGS.
The myGenome service is available only in the United States.
Will Whole-Genome Sequencing Replace Other Genetic Tests?
Church predicts that WGS will someday replace other genetic tests, such as the genotyping used by personal genomics and biotechnology company 23andMe.
“Companies like 23andMe that are based on genotyping technology basically opened the market over the last decade,” Martinez explained in an interview with WTF Health. “They’ve done an incredible job of getting awareness in the general population.”
However, he goes on to say, “In genotyping technology, you
are looking at very specific points of the genome, less than half of one
percent, a very small amount.”
Martinez says Veritas is sequencing all 6.4 billion letters
of the genome. And, with the new price point, “we’re closer to realizing that
seismic shift,” he said in the news release.
“This is the inflection point,” Martinez told CNBC.
“This is the point where the curve turns upward. You reach a critical mass when
you are able to provide a product that gives value at a specific price point.
This is the beginning of that. That’s why it’s seismic.”
Payment Models Not Yet Established by Government, Private
However, tying WGS into personalized medicine that leads to actionable diagnoses may not be easy. Robin Bennett, PhD (hon.), a board certified senior genetic counselor and Professor of Medicine and Medical Genetics at UW School of Medicine, told CNBC, “[Healthcare] may be moving in that direction, but the payment for testing and for services, it hasn’t moved in the preventive direction. So, unless the healthcare system changes, these tests may not be as useful because … the healthcare system hasn’t caught up to say, ‘Yes, we support payment for this.’”
“Insurers are looking for things where, if you get the
information, there’s something you can do with it and that both the provider
and the patient are willing and able to use that information to do things that
improve their health,” Phillips told CNBC. “Insurers are very interested
in using genetic testing for prevention, but we need to . . . demonstrate that
the information will be used and that it’s a good trade-off between the
benefits and the costs.”
Sequencing for Free If You Share Your Data
Church may have an answer for that as well—get biopharmaceutical companies to foot the bill. Though Veritas’ new price for their myGenome service is significantly lower than before, it’s not free. That’s what Nebula Genomics, a start-up genetics company in Massachusetts co-founded by Church, offers people willing to share the data derived from their sequencing. To help biomedical researchers gather data for their studies, Nebula provides free or partially-paid-for whole-genome sequencing to qualified candidates.
“Nebula will enable individuals to get sequenced at much
lower cost through sequencing subsidies paid by the biopharma industry,” Church
“We need to bring the costs of personal genome sequencing close to zero to
achieve mass adoption.”
So, will lower-priced whole-genome sequencing catch on?
Perhaps. It’s certainly popular with everyday people who want to learn their
ancestry or predisposition to certain diseases. How it will ultimately affect
clinical laboratories and pathologists remains to be seen, but one thing is
certain—WGS is here to stay.