Nebula Genomics rolled out a low-cost genome sequencing test to consumers
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California-based startup Nebula Genomics launched a consumer product that will offer users whole genome sequencing for $299, according to MobiHealth News.
The startup differs from other popular direct-to-consumer (DTC) genomics companies because it performs a 30X whole genome sequencing: Many DTC genetic testing products, such as 23andMe's $99 basic service, employ genotyping, which is not as comprehensive as whole genome sequencing, as genotyping only focuses on a snapshot (less than 1%) of a person's total genome.
The launch of Nebula's whole genome sequencing product comes amid a downturn in the DTC genetic testing market - but the startup is betting on its affordability and emphasis on security.
The startup is likely hoping its cheaper whole genome sequencing tests will lure over consumers who have used less comprehensive kits, or those who have been interested in whole genome sequencing, but couldn't afford it. Earlier this month, Ancestry laid off approximately 100 employees, and 23andMe laid off 14% of its workforce amid falling sales figures, highlighting how genetic testing giants are starting to cope with the cool down in the DTC genetic testing market.
As part of its efforts to combat waning consumer interest in the space, Nebula has focused on making whole genome sequencing less expensive: In comments made to MobiHealth News, Nebula Genomics cofounder Dennis Grishin noted "... we are twice as cheap as the nearest competitors... right now, the price is about $600 or $700 if you want to buy 30X whole genome sequencing.
We are doing it at $299." Given the more comprehensive health insights that can be gleaned from whole genome sequencing, Nebula could still capture customers who have used genetic testing kits from the likes of 23andMe and Ancestry.
The startup is also working to address privacy concerns that could be holding some consumers back from using DTC genetic tests. Nebula has also made a point to ease users' privacy concerns, an issue Senator Chuck Shumer (D-New York) addressed in 2017 with a letter to the Federal Trade Commission, urging it to ensure genetic testing firms' privacy policies were transparent and fair.
The startup is building a secure data management platform that will leverage blockchain technology and "privacy-preserving computing." Blockchain technology has an access control element that tracks permissions users have given to their data - and Nebula will implement this technology to give users greater control over who can access their data, with the hopes of building consumer trust in the process.
We've seen other DTC genetic testing firms move away from the DTC space and pursue tie-ups to secure future revenue - and we're skeptical that Nebula's DTC-focused strategy will be viable in the long-run. The cool down in the DTC genetic testing market has led genetic testing firms to up their pursuit of tie-ups with healthcare stakeholders across the ecosystem: For example, genetic testing startup Helix made the strategic shift away from the DTC space last year to focus on provider partnerships like its recent tie-up with Mayo Clinic to build a genomic database, and 23andMe teamed up with TrialSpark to speed up clinical trial recruitment.
But Nebula's rollout of whole genome sequencing to consumers suggests the startup is looking to get its product into the hands of a wider audience. However, we're skeptical that this DTC-centered approach will pay off in the long-term: While Nebula could see early consumer interest in its whole genome sequencing product, the startup could face hurdles sustaining consumer interest down the road once its pricey, single-use product has been used.
And while one of Nebula's offerings - the Nebula Research Library - is designed to keep customers engaged with updates on the latest research advancements that might be relevant to their genetic information, I (Dane) don't think this value-add will be enough to convince consumers to buy the whole genome sequencing product or to help Nebula secure long-term revenue after users have completed their initial tests.
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