Direct-to-consumer genetic testing is different than genetic testing that is done through healthcare providers: the tests are marketed directly to customers and the tests can be bought online or in stores. Customers send the company a DNA sample and receive their results directly from a secure website or in a written report. Direct-to-consumer genetic testing provides people access to their genetic information without necessarily involving a healthcare provider or health insurance company in the process.
Dozens of companies currently offer direct-to-consumer genetic tests for a variety of purposes. The most popular tests use genetic variations to make predictions about health, provide information about common traits, and offer clues about a person’s ancestry.
The number of companies providing direct-to-consumer genetic testing is growing, along with the range of health conditions and traits covered by these tests. Because there is currently little regulation of direct-to-consumer genetic testing services, it is important to assess the quality of available services before pursuing any testing.
Direct-to-consumer genetic testing has both benefits and limitations. Until very recently, the total number of people tested by consumer genetics companies globally grew rapidly, primarily driven by 23andMe and AncestryDNA. Recently, there have been a number of signs that the market has begun to slow down.
- Illumina, the manufacturer of the DNA decoding system that serves as the basis for many genetic testing companies, lowered its full-year expectations in 2019.
- Veritas Genetics, a company that provided whole-genome sequencing for $600, suspended its U.S. operations, citing issues raising additional funding.
- Helix may have witnessed similar signs of market declines in interest from consumers, it is looking to partner with health care providers after planning to sell tests directly to consumers.
- 23andMe is laying off about 14% of its staff, as the company looks to scale back on work that isn’t core to the consumer testing and therapeutics businesses that 23andMe operates.
Takeaway: Recently, there have been a number of signs that the market for consumer genetic testing has begun to slow down.
U.S. National Library of Medicine; Genetics Home Reference, What is Genetic Testing?; https://ghr.nlm.nih.gov/primer/dtcgenetictesting/directtoconsumer.
AMA, Precision Medicine; Direct-To-Consumer Genetic Testing: https://www.ama-assn.org/delivering-care/precision-medicine/direct-consumer-genetic-testing.