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Orig3n’s Robin Smith on how he’s capturing DNA, blood samples toward advance precision medicine
We recently had Dr. Craig Venter speak at our Splash Health 2017 event. Dr. Venter is the first person to sequence a human genome, simply put: the instructions and information about human development, physiology, and evolution. In his interview, he points out that 15 years ago, sequencing a human genome would have cost $100 million and take over nine months.
Oh how far we’ve come. Today, there are a number of companies helping us to analyze our genes, or basically our DNA, which make up genes, to understand our physiology. Advances in sequencing the human genome have been the foundation for this knowledge, and is ultimately paving the path toward personalized medicine - therapies that are personalized to a person’s genetic code, and its cousin regenerative medicine - therapies that replace or enable damaged cells, organs to regenerate.
One company, Orig3n, is doing both. Boston-based Orig3n started out in 2014 collecting blood samples to conduct regenerative medicine studies, but later added in the ability to conduct DNA testing to learn more about a person’s intelligence, or predisposition to learning languages, to knowing what vitamins they’re deficient in.
It’s an interesting an unique funnel the company has created for itself on its way to solve big problems with regenerative medicine, which seems more in its infancy than DNA testing.
To that end, Orig3n’s DNA testing business has taken off.
In order to be tested, you take a cotton swab and swab the inside of your cheek to collect DNA samples from the cells inside your mouth. Alternatively, one could spit in a tube, which is how 23andMe collects samples of DNA.
From there, Orig3n breaks down the cells to open up the DNA, which is inside the nucleus of the cell. The DNA is then purified and put into a genetic test panel. Your DNA is then analyzed against other DNA that have been collected and studied.
The analysis of the DNA is pretty standard. What differentiates its products, according to Robin Smith, Founder and CEO, is how the analysis is packaged and how quickly the results are turned around. “The whole genome sequencing world has been around for 15 years and is fairly commoditized,” said Smith. “The same thing is happening with DNA detection.” The biggest differentiator for Orig3n is that it delivers the data in ways that are understandable, said Smith.
On Everlywell, you can take a DNA test to measure your sensitivity to foods. Or for around $239, it appears you can test to see if you have a higher likelihood to be infected with HIV, Herpes Type 2 and other sexual diseases.
On 23andMe, you can pay $199 to learn what proportion of your genes come from 31 populations worldwide, or what your genetic weight predisposes you to weigh vs an average and what are some healthy habits of people with your genetic makeup [though personally these habits seem to be good for anyone regardless of genetic makeup].
But for Orig3n, the DNA tests are just a good business while also a funnel to the bigger problem they’re trying to solve, and for which they recently raised $20 million for: Regenerative medicine.
Before offering the DNA tests, Orig3n was taking and continues to take blood samples, reprogramming cells to go back to a state three days prior. And from there, they can grow certain tissues. The purpose of Orig3n is to create cell therapies for various diseases and disorders.
“In the next fives year, there will be real live therapies to repairing the degeneration of your eyes or performing some cardiac repair,” Smith predicted. “It feels like 1993 when I used a phone line to dial into the Internet, then seven years later we had the boom. We think regenerative medicine - getting your body to induce itself to rejuvenate parts that are broken - is where the Internet was in 1993.”
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