Panacea launches to help patients overcome barriers to genetic testing

Steven Loeb · February 28, 2024 · Short URL:

The company is able to offer more accurate testing for a lower price

It wasn't all that long ago that we cracked the human genome, and in just a few short years  we became used to direct-to-consumer genetic sequencing companies, like and 23&Me, which could not only trace your lineage, but also potentially tell you if you were prone to certain diseases.

More recently 23&Me, though, has been dealing with data breaches and a tanking stock price but, more importantly, the company misses over 90% of harmful genetic mutations, a realization that led Dahlia Attia-King to found Panacea, a one-stop-shop for genetic health services, which came out of stealth on Wednesday. 

"Despite the existence of a variety of genetic tests and technologies, more than 80% of people whose lives could potentially be saved by testing are not getting tested. It’s clear that no one has been able to truly move the needle on preventative genetic testing utilization," she explained to VatorNews.

"What we observed at Panacea is that there aren't any available solutions that address the multitude of problems that exist in the space. Consumer tests are inexpensive but not thorough."

There are two different leagues of genetic test technologies: microarray and next-gen sequencing, which determine the depth and breadth of information yielded from a genetic test. Most direct-to-consumer companies use microarray tech, which locates a predetermined mutation but only looks for that specific mutation and nothing else. It’s quick and inexpensive, and its affordable cost makes it attractive to consumers. The problem is it misses everything it isn't looking for, which translates to overlooking thousands of harmful mutations.

Next-gen sequencing, meanwhile, is mostly utilized in medical grade genetic testing because it's a far more comprehensive review of an individual’s inherited genetic risks but it has historically been more expensive and requires mored medical guidance than microarray. As a result, it's not commonly found in a direct-to-consumer offering. In fact, it's even very difficult to access in the current healthcare system because insurances do not universally cover it and doctors are not always motivated to order it.

Panacea’s mission centers around addressing the many barriers that inhibit genetic testing access and utilization, which it does by uniting the disparate key stakeholders into one streamlined, consumer-accessible workflow, aggregating and partnering with CLIA and CAP certified clinical laboratories, trained physicians, and certified genetic counselors so that every user receives the full range of services necessary for effective genetic testing and targeted healthcare.

"Bringing medical grade next-gen sequencing direct-to-consumer requires the lowering of costs and the inclusion of multiple necessary pieces like expert clinical guidance as well as effective health data privacy policies. It is a more difficult and complex offering to manage," said Attia-King 

"For these reasons, most DTC’s opt for the path of least resistance and use cheaper, less thorough tech despite its limitations on identifying genetic disease risks. I think DTCs could improve by simply being more transparent about what their products and services DO and DO NOT offer so that people are not misled."

When a user signs up for Panacea, they receive a cheek swab and kit in the mail along with instructions for taking a clean sample. Then, 14 to 21 days after the sample arrives at the lab, users receive a report outlining known gene risks, many with medically available interventions. Additionally, the report highlights any changes detected in the 15 most common carrier genes, which may not impact the individual, but could impact their children. Users can also request their raw data at no extra cost.

They are also provided a session with a genetic counselor to discuss results and whether any proactive healthcare decisions should be considered.

Thanks to Panacea’s partnerships with CLIA and CAP certified genetic laboratories, trained genetic counselors and medical doctors, the company is able to offer its services for under $1,000.

"Our model fuses the accessibility, usability and affordability of a direct to consumer model in conjunction with clinical-grade laboratory testing and the guidance of medical providers so that anyone can receive potentially life-saving testing with cost-effective ease," said Attia-King.

The company, which was previously only available in Florida, is getting a nationwide roll-out with its launch, meaning it's now available in every state in the U.S., save for New York, though the company does plan to expand there eventually as well. 

"The state of New York requires clinical laboratories to have additional licensing, beyond federal CLIA or CAP certifications, provided by the state itself. So, not every clinical genetic lab can provide services to New York residents. We are selective with our lab partners and are actively searching for NY licensed labs whose quality and pricing meet our standards," Attia-King explained.

With this expansion, the company also plans to double its number of users by the end of the year.

In terms of ROI, there's significant potential cost savings and ROI for those patients: studies show that about 1 in 16 Americans will have an identifiable genetic mutation that increases their risk for cancer, translating into about 20 million people. Cancer treatment costs at least $80,000 per patient so, for those users, compared to spending $1,000 on a Panacea test that could help catch early or avoid the development of cancer.

The development of Panacea is personal to Attia-King and her sister, who found out through Panacea’s Whole Exome Sequencing that they have a genetic mutation that increases their risk for ovarian cancer 9x more than the average woman. Yet, because they have no family history of this cancer, they never would have qualified for genetic testing in today’s healthcare system. 

"I am certain there are millions of people out there just like me and my sister. I founded Panacea because I knew how many people’s lives could be changed or saved, but never did I think I would be one of them," she said.

"Studies show that about 50% of people who have an increased risk for cancer caused by harmful genetic mutations have no family history of that cancer. That means that the standard method of using family history to gauge candidacy for testing is ineffective and precisely why universal testing for ANYONE that wants to know this information is the future of effective preventative medicine." 

Ultimately, what Attia-King wants to see is for the Panacea name to be synonymous with preventative genetics.

"We’d really like to finally move the needle on test utilization, a challenge that no one has yet overcome. The vast majority of people, 80%, who need testing still have not received it, and if we can make a dent in those numbers, I think we’ll have done our job."

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