Veritas is slashing costs to beat back rivals like 23andMe

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Massachusetts-based whole genome sequencing company Veritas Genetics is cutting prices on its myGenome product by 40% to $600 in hopes of expanding its reach with consumers, per CNBC.

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The company aims to sequence between 15,000 and 20,000 genomes - defined as a complete profile of DNA - next year, aiming to hit more than 150,000 in 2021 as its services move closer to the $200 price point offered by competitors.

Here's what it means: Veritas' lower-priced genetic testing rivals have run away with the market, though the company believes its more comprehensive approach to genetic health will give it the long-term edge.
  • Veritas has fully sequenced 5,000 genomes, while 23andMe has sold 10 million of its genetic testing kits. A lower price point is key to Veritas gaining traction among consumers: For example, the company briefly offered 1,000 of its myGenome tests at the $200 price point common among competitors last November, and they sold out in less than 6 hours. The biggest barrier to decreasing the cost of its services is the high price of Illumina genome sequencing machines - which Veritas relies on to analyze a customer's DNA sample. However, Wired predicts Illumina will lower its prices in the near future to fend off Chinese competition, reducing costs for Veritas in the process.
  • The sheer amount of data gathered from whole genome sequencing could be what sets Veritas apart from its competitors.Veritas sequences all 6.4 billion letters of its customers' genome and keeps a secure record of the data, unlike genotyping - the genetic testing process used by companies like 23andMe and AncestryDNA - which looks at less than 1% of the total genome, only flagging DNA variants that have already been identified by scientists as having the potential to affect clinical outcomes. Veritas' more comprehensive approach to genetic testing has big potential impacts for payers looking to unlock the value of genetic data. For instance, diabetes cost the US an estimated $327 billion in 2017, according to the American Diabetes Association. But it's a disease that, in addition to factors like diet and exercise, emerges from interactions across multiple different genes - which genotyping can't capture, per Wired.

The bigger picture: I (Zach) think Veritas' long-term plans will involve combining with other companies spun out from its cofounders' lab to improve its research capabilities and eventually offer some form of gene editing service.

Veritas' new pricing scheme likely isn't primarily aimed at pulling market share from competitors, but rather to build a genomic database it can utilize to expand into new markets. George Church, Veritas cofounder and advisor, has been a part of several major genetics breakthroughs in the past, including the Human Genome Project and the development of CRISPR - a genome editing technique that allows scientists to cut and paste lines of DNA like text in a Word document.

Church holds identical roles at the Veritas-acquired machine-learning company Curoverse and at a gene editing company called eGenesis, which has the stated goal of creating recoded human organs and tissue that would be immune to all viruses, per the MIT Technology Review.

A Veritas blog post highlights whole genome sequencing's potential in everything from preventative medicine to life insurance to reproductive gene editing services, what the company refers to as the "Era of the Social Genome."

It's likely Veritas' long-term goals involve combining with eGenesis to better leverage insights from genomic data and eventually bring gene editing services to the public.

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