Is genetic testing the future of healthcare?

The chief executive of a startup genetic testing company called 23andMe says her company can revolutionize healthcare by shifting the emphasis from diagnosis to prevention.

Anne Wojcicki has raised more than $126 million in capital since launching 23andMe in 2006, according to a profile in this month's Fast Company. Her financial backers include Silicon Valley royalty including her former husband, Google chief Sergey Brin, and Russian billionaire and tech investor Yuri Milner.

Most of the company's revenue comes from its $99 DNA test, but eventually the company wants to use the data collected from those tests to become the "Google of personalized healthcare," board member Patrick Chung told the magazine.

The first major step toward that goal is to sign up one million customers by the end of this year, a milepost on the way to her eventual goal of 25 million customers. The company had 400,000 customers at the end of September, according to the article.

"Once you get 25 million people, there's just a huge power of what type of discoveries you can make," Wojcicki told the magazine. "Big data is going to make us all healthier. What kind of diet should certain people be on? Are there things people are doing that make them really high-risk for cancer?"

Americans are expected to spend $25 billion on genetic testing, up from $5 billion in 2010, but insurers are still trying to determine whether to cover the tests. They disagree on whether test results can lower their costs by leading to better prevention of disease or raise costs by prompting expensive, unnecessary treatments.

Insurers don't want to be sent down "blind alleys," Reed Tuckson, UnitedHealth's executive vice president and chief of medical affairs, said last year. "That's something you wouldn't want for anyone. And it takes the costs of care through the roof."

After actress Angelina Jolie went public with her decision to undergo a prophylactic double mastectomy following genetic testing, Cigna said it would require members to undergo counseling before it would pay for them to undergo genetic tests for breast, ovarian and colorectal cancers.

For more information:
- read the Fast Company profile

Related Articles:
Should insurers cover genetic tests?
Cigna requires counseling before genetic tests
Technology can mitigate challenges of genomic data in EHRs
Smartphone app enables storage, testing of DNA data
Boston Children's forms for-profit genomics venture

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