For a person who rarely goes to the doctor and rarely takes medicine, it was an honor to moderate a panel on personalized medicine at MIT-Stanford Venture Lab, held at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. It was the first panel at VLab with all female panelists, I was told. The discussion - held last night - was about consumer genomics, and specifically 23andMe, and what the market opportunities as well as the challenges are for this emerging sector.
The panelists were a distinguished group of ladies in this nascent field of consumer genomics. Mari Baker, CEO of Navigenics, whose interview with me is in this post, was a key participant given that her company is a direct-to-consumer play just like 23andMe. Both companies provide genetic testing for an annual fee. Navigenics charges $2500, plus an annual fee on top of that. 23andMe charges $1,000 a year. At Navigenics, you're tested to see if you're at high risk for some 18 conditions, such as colon cancer and Alzheimers.
23andMe is more liberal with the information it makes available. It shares information about 60 conditions, including ancestry information, or whether you have the genes to be a world-class sprinter. Both are different approaches to solving the same problem: How do you educate consumers on their genetic makeup to empower them to take control of their health?
Other panelists included Linda Avey, cofounder and CEO of 23andMe, Rowan Chapman, partner at Mohr Davidow, Risa Stack, partner at Kleiner Perkins, and Bonnie Anderson, CEO of Veracyte. I invited Anne Wojcicki, co-founder of 23andMe, to sit on the panel as well, even though she said she wasn’t blond. That’s an inside joke for those who were there. Essentially, it was pretty obvious the panel was made up of blond women. And, given the topic of genetic profiling, it seemed appropriate to assume blond women were predisposed to lead the advances in this industry.
It was a fascinating discussion about the market opportunity, accuracy of the data, the downside and ethical challenges. But the crux of the discussion was around the value of such information, and what consumers would pay. Based on a simple survey of the 250 to 300 attendees, about 20% said they’d pay $1000 for the test, but nearly all said they’d pay $500 for the test. To that end, the question was posed to the panelists, why those price points? Both Mari and Linda talked about the prior and current costs of getting hold of DNA codes. For instance, one company Knome, in Cambridge, Mass., charges $350,000 for someone’s three-billion-letter DNA code. To that end, their services are bargains! Personally, I'm betting prices go down a bit before this is adopted rapidly. It's just like when the iPhone was released. Most waited until it dropped a few hundred bucks - and for a much better product to boot.
But clearly there's value in the testing services done by both 23andMe and Navigenics. The science may still be nascent, and the medical profession still ill-prepared to take action on this information. But it's just a matter of time before we'll be walking around with our genetic code cards. And, that includes even me.