Drugstore Genomics Arrives


Do you have any Cherokee princess ancestors?

Pathway Genomics, a California-based genotype screening company, is going to start offering its Insight screening tests over-the-counter at 7,500 Walgreen's drugstores at the end of this week. Consumers will buy the test and then send a sample of their DNA in to Pathway Genomics' labs for analysis. According to the company press release:

The Insight™ Saliva Collection Kit contains a small saliva collection kit, simple instructions, and a postage-paid envelope that customers can use to send their saliva sample back to the Pathway Genomics laboratory.  From there, they simply visit Pathway's web site (www.PATHWAY.com) to create their own secure, password-protected account and order an individualized Genetic Insight™ Report for Drug Response ($79), Pre-Pregnancy Planning ($179), Health Conditions ($179) or a combination of all three ($249). Pathway's Genetics Insight™ Reports offer consumers a convenient and affordable way to learn about their personal genetics.

"We're revolutionizing the way people access information about their genetics, and through thousands of convenient Walgreens locations, we're making it easier and more affordable than ever before to order a personalized genetic report," said Jim Plante, CEO of Pathway Genomics. "The value of knowing how genes play a role in our personal lives, and potentially the lives of our children, is critical for making well-informed health and wellness decisions.

Consumers can learn how they are likely to respond to various drugs; gain some knowledge about some disease risks; and finally get to the bottom of those family legends about Cherokee ancestors.

Of course, the usual bioethical busybodies are opposed to allowing consumers to have this information. As the Washington Post reports:

"It doesn't seem like a good use of resources or something people should be spending their money on yet," said Sharon F. Terry, who heads the Genetic Alliance, a Washington-based coalition of patient groups, researchers, private companies, government agencies and public policy organizations. …

"It is reckless," said Hank Greely, director of Stanford University's Center for Law and the Biosciences. "Information is powerful, but misunderstood information can be powerfully bad."

Well, people waste, I mean, spend, money on all sorts of things that I find useless, e.g., major league baseball game tickets and Mouse in the House cat toys, but that's no reason to try to stop them from buying those products and services.

And of course, people surely can misunderstand information, but the way that consumers learn how to use any new product is through trying it out. If the first purchasers of the new Pathway tests find them confusing or not very useful, they will tell their friends and neighbors and Walgreen's find some new vitamin mixture or cosmetic to take up that shelf space.

I have not seen how Pathway displays and explains the information generated by its tests, but I can say that its rival, 23andMe, does a great job in this regard. For example, I got an email just this morning from 23andMe alerting me to five new test results. Those results suggest that I have gene variants that confer a slightly lower risk of melanoma and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease; typical odds of suffering postoperative nausea and vomiting; moderately increased odds of Hashimoto's thyroiditis; and gene variants indicating that I have a typical level of circulating sex hormone-binding globulin. Each new result comes with a report that explains its possible relevance and provides references to the scientific studies on which they are based.

Instead of trying to slow down social learning about genomics, we should let companies and consumers interact, so that they will both learn how better to explain and understand the information such testing will provide.

NEXT: Elena Kagan and the Gray Lady

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  1. “It is reckless,” said Hank Greely, director of Stanford University’s Center for Law and the Biosciences. “Information is powerful, but misunderstood information can be powerfully bad.”

    Like using Web MD to diagnose and treat your own diseases? What could possibly go wrong?

    And of course, people surely can misunderstand information, but the way that consumers learn how to use any new product is through trying it out.

    This is why you have doctors to help patients interpret the results and help them provide better care and health planning and management options and strategies.

    Identifying test results is one thing, but applying those results to a complete H&P and HX history is a different matter entirely.

    1. No offense, but many of the doctors we work with can’t interpret the results they get from laboratory tests. At least, not the genetic tests 🙂

      It’s like pulling teeth sometimes, getting them to understand the significance of CYP2C9 and VKORC1.

      The onus is on the laboratory to provide comprehensive results interpretation and support.

      Maybe 23andMe improved their interpretations, but I was not impressed with what I saw. Their interpretation of OPRM1 was way off the mark.

  2. “Information is powerful, but misunderstood information can be powerfully bad.”

    Ah. People are uninformed, so clearly the answer is to limit access to information. Don’t worry your pretty little heads.

    “Ignorance Is Strength” seems to be a common theme lately.

    1. It worked for the Church pre-Reformation!

      Er, um, wait…

      1. It’s also Obama’s philosophy (per Warty):


    2. Knowledge is fabulous, but we’re faced with a poorly educated public. It’s hard to get people to understand the significance of the results, when they have no fundamental understanding of the mechanisms in question.

      All the facts in the world are useless to someone who has no basis for understanding them.

      The Demon-Haunted World, anyone?

  3. No, don’t buy “Mouse in the House” cat toys. Buy “Cat Cubes,” which totally rock, BUT CUT THE DAMN RIBBONS INSIDE!!! The first two reviews on the Target website end with the phrase “my cat died.”

    1. Poor kitties. Why can’t they make Vanneman Cubes instead? VANNEMAN DELENDA EST

    2. Hello Brother! I see Valtrex hasn’t gotten you down. It’s a bitch but we keep on plugging away, don’t we?

    3. Shouldn’t you be at your desk writing another Faulkner novel?

  4. Home DNA tests are a waste of glorious people’s resources!
    Questions are counter revolutionary. Answers are bourgeois.

  5. You know what they say about a man with a typical level of circulating sex hormone-binding globulin…

    …Er, do you know? ‘Cause I have no idea.

    1. I always thought it was, “an erection looking for a hole.”
      Me bad. It should be, “a fella looking for a nice girl.”

  6. “Information is powerful, but misunderstood information can be powerfully bad.”

    This is just what I have been trying to tell everyone! If you just listen to me and the people I approve of, everything will be fine!


    1. Just look at what Congresscritters do with their misunderstood information!

  7. While I have no objection to people making use of any medical technology that they wish, this sort of shotgun approach to testing is not likely to be very effective. I note that as usual in the media (including Reason) there is no analysis of the utility of these tests in terms of their sensitivity or specificity, or their predictive value. People will spend hundreds of dollars, panic because they test positive for some insignificant increase in relative risk for some condition, then pay again to have their primary care physician tell them that they have nothing to worry about.

    The predictions of a test like this (applied across the general population), will be vague, generalized and non-specific, just like an astrological prediction except for science buffs.

  8. “It doesn’t seem like a good use of resources…”

    Says the statist who believes that my money (“resources”) really belongs to her and society, and that they are better qualified to make those choices for me.

  9. How DARE you insult baseball. I’m going to haunt you starting tonight.

  10. RE: Value of MLB Tix

    Milton Bradley doesn’t lose his shit when I heckle him through the TV.

  11. “Mouse in the House cat toys”

    We have real mice in our house. Drive the cat bonkers.

  12. all sorts of things that I find useless, e.g., major league baseball game tickets

    You don’t get to sit at Matt Welch’s table at lunchtime, do you?

  13. So, these chips have a marginal cost of about fifty cents and can really help doctors diagnose patients and choose optimal treatments. Just food for thought here, but perhaps we should weigh that against the virtues of the free market in this case to reconsider patent policies. These pop-genomics companies enjoy monopolies or oligopolies because of our patent law.

    1. I agree, Christopher. There’s certainly no reason to keep the financial incentives in place that lead to the development chips that cost fifty cents and deliver outsized benefits.

      1. Well, R.C. Dean, if you read a book instead of just responding to everything you hear with snarky, bulldoggish, ideological pandering, you might know that the genomic information on which these companies draw was obtained by mass voluntary cooperation between non-profits. Genomic services monopolies basically take advantage of information that has been provided for free to rip people off, people who might have genetically-determined adverse reactions to drugs, or whose genetic profiles might determine chemotherapy regimen – that is to say, these patent monopolies are literally killing people.

        The reason why these patents exist in the first place is because we didn’t really understand how genomics works up until very recently. Companies have patents that cover any procedure that, for example, uses silver or involves DNA polymerase, etc., real ridiculous reasons for getting a patent, as if I were given a patent on any hypodermic needles made of plastic and then used my patent to charge people and hospitals a 3,000% mark-up. Well, my apologists would say, those patents provided an incentive for me to make my hypodermic needle, and other people can always make non-plastic hypodermic needles and charge less if they want to make things more competitive.

        In Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments he essentially said that free markets work if people are moral and if laws are in place to punish otherwise undesirable behavior. Don’t make me a straw-man because I suggest that those who do little innovation should not get patents.

  14. Voters are smart enough to make their own voting decisions, but they’re too stupid to make their own purchasing decisions.

    1. Thankfully in the voting booth they can choose to vote for a Democrat or a Republican. Or they can waste their vote, which goes to show they can’t really be trusted to make the correct establishment approved decision in the first place.

  15. Thankfully in the voting booth they can choose to vote for a Repulocrat or a Democan.
    There, fixed it for ya.

  16. are these tests anonymous? ie, can I pay with a money order of some kind and not give a name? otherwise what is to prevent some govt agency from having a ‘must need’ for access sometime down the road?

  17. If you all believe the hype from the company selling these tests, I’ve got some sweet fucking rocks that do all sorts of shit for you and I’m selling them cheap.

  18. I heard an MSNBC teaser this morning reporting how “fear was spreading” across the nation over these tests. I didn’t stick around to find out how or why.

  19. Not for much longer.

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