The growth of genetic testing and personalized medicine
It may soon be possible for each one of us to live a billionaire’s lifestyle, without necessarily having the billions, albeit at a small cost. Thanks to our digital lifestyles and the advances in technology, marketers are now vying to give each and every one of us a level of customized service that in the past was probably reserved for only those paying top dollar. It’s marketing’s holy grail—digital personalization at scale.
We are already getting accustomed to this personalization when we shop online on Amazon or log on to Netflix for entertainment. The technology firms’ knowledge of our past history along with their ability to analyse and match our profiles with that of a larger peer group helps them to come up with recommendations on what we may like. But this is just the tip of the iceberg.
In healthcare, the promises are way grander. The future may include editing genes to make designer babies. For now, companies are willing to tell us everything from which serious illnesses may besiege us to personalized diets and fitness plans on the basis of our DNA tests.
Knowing our genetics allows us to include personalized medicines and even have preventive surgeries a la Angelina Jolie’s bilateral mastectomy in 2013. Globally, genetic testing ranks among the top 10 global consumer trends for 2018, according to research firm Euromonitor.
In fact, given the ease—all it requires is a teaspoon of spit and less than $100, or Rs6,500—consumers are getting them done for a lark. Contrast this to the $1 billion it cost to generate the first human genome sequence in 2003.
DNA test kits were the hottest selling item during the last holiday shopping season in the US. On Amazon, a DNA test kit which revealed ancestry details by a company called Ancestry.com DNA Llc sold roughly 1.5 million units from Black Friday to Cyber Monday. It was one of the site’s best-selling products on Cyber Monday, an Amazon executive told RetailDive.
However, in India people are using genetic testing with a purpose. “They come to us looking for solutions as they have a disorder and are not getting the required results, or they are on a quest to lead a healthier lifestyle,” says Pranav Anam, co-founder of The Gene Box, a genetics-based healthcare platform.
The field is growing. Even tech giants like Google are now showing interest. In December, Google announced that it has developed a new tool, DeepVariant, which utilizes artificial intelligence (AI) to try and develop a better understanding of our genome.
The global predictive genetic testing and consumer/wellness genomics market was valued at $2.24 billion in 2015. It is expected to double to $4.6 billion by 2025, according to a February 2017 report by Grand View Research Inc., a US-based market research and consulting company.
However, the fledgling industry faces concerns about authenticity, given that the number of start-ups providing DNA testing reports and services is increasing without any regulation. The Indian Council of Medical Research, an apex body for regulating clinical research in the country has not developed any guidelines to regulate genetic testing laboratories.
“Personal genomics is at a very underdeveloped stage and companies are exploiting people by offering it,” Soumya Swaminathan, director general of Indian Council of Medical Research told Scroll.
To be sure, it’s only in the last year that even the US Food and Drug Administration agreed to allow 23andMe, a company backed by Google’s parent Alphabet Inc., to sell direct-to-consumer genetic predisposition tests for Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, Celiac disease and three key breast cancer mutations.
Also, as with technology, the concerns around data privacy and security remain. Genetic testing gives companies access to our most sensitive and deeply intimate information—our genetics.
However, how companies store this data, or how they use it, is not clear. A survey commissioned by 23andMe found that 80% of respondents had privacy concerns about DNA testing and 88% did not know or understand what precautions companies take to secure data.
What it circles back to is the same Facebook fear: if you are not paying for it (or, as in this case, paying a marginal cost), it is because you are the product.
Shop Talk will take a weekly look at consumer trends, behaviour and insights.