Genetic Testing

All set for growth

Julian Awad

CEO & Co-Founder, Smart Genetics LLC, HIVmirror LLC, USA


"Technology and the worldwide coordination of efforts to push discovery in genetics has exacerbated the growth of opportunity in this sector."


1. What are your thoughts on the growth potential of the sector?

We believe this sector has tremendous growth potential and is poised to explode over the next five to ten years. Technology and the world wide coordination of efforts to push discovery in genetics has exacerbated the growth of opportunity in this sector pushing market issues prematurely to the forefront. These issues may be the factors that slow conversion of the opportunities more than the technological restrictions. Distribution and the after effects of the "disruption" to consumers current access to personalised medical information are now driving ethical and efficiency questions.

2. This is a highly knowledge-dependent sector. With each company carrying out its own research, will they be ready to share their valuable knowledge? If not, how will this affect the growth of the industry?

Sharing of knowledge will become essential for industry at large but also for joint-ventures where the big plays will happen in a rapidly developing marketplace. If there are multiple markers being developed for risk scenarios of the same disease, the products independently will be competitive and less effective than if the markers were combined and used/sold collectively. Additionally, the competitive marketing efforts will confuse consumers and potentially reduce uptake overall. What will be interesting is to see if /how the patentability of genomic information will remain unchallenged by the world community at large.

3. What could prove to be the hurdles to the growth of the industry?

End users (patients and consumers) of the products and services will need to go through a large learning curve. The information is complex and must be diluted to the essential components and delivered in a manner the end user can understand and value. There are addition challenges with an industry that is constantly discovering, new products (markers) are being discovered on a regular basis. A new and potentially more relevant marker could threaten current products and all the capital invested to develop and bring it to market.

4. How has been the initial response from the medical community to genetic testing products?

Mixed depending on the disease category and the test. Some tests have been embraced and others have been shunned. But as more products become available more demand is placed on front line clinicians to be aware and incorporate genetic testing into their practice. Our company has had numerous calls from customers with very positive and thankful feedback telling us that their doctors have directed them to our site. Some customers are being directed to us by geneticists and hospital workers as well.

5. The industry is yet to come up with a proper business model, are the ones being tried out by companies like Genomic Testing, 23andMe and Decode likely to survive over the long run?

I'm not aware that 23andMe's model has been declared but they are consumer-focussed according to their website. Decode is a research organisation. Both have different models and are in different businesses. It may be too early to make assumptions on their survival. More interesting will be their ability to adapt to how this sector will be changing.

6. How can the industry address issues related to Ethics and data security in the future? Is it too early to start worrying?

Ethics and data security should be addressed now and not later. Good standards, industry best practices and guidance is needed quickly to help new organisations develop in this space. Organisations such as the Genetic Alliance that Smart Genetics is a member of acts as a focal point for these types of issues.

7. How much longer is it likely to be before it becomes economically feasible to provide genetic tests?

We are already there. A subsidiary of Smart Genetics, HIVmirror LLC offers the HIVmirror genetic test for US$ 99. Several of our customers have commented they are shocked by how affordable our tests are. Genetics test have been offered for years.

8. Amidst all this, where do the patients/consumers stand currently and what does the future hold for them?

Patients/Consumers will be forced to become educated with the issues, benefits and limitations of genetics. It will have such a personal impact on each of us in how we live our lives, how we are treated for diseases and ailments (personalised medicine), and potentially to our treatment of one another that we have to embrace this change and quickly.

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