Helix Launches Online Personal Genomics Testing Marketplace

A work-around for the FDA's ban on direct-to-consumer genetic testing?


Wave Break Media Ltd/Dreamstime

Helix wants you to become a lifelong repeat customer in its newly launched genomics testing marketplace. For $80 the company will use your saliva sample to sequence all 22,000 protein-coding genes in your exome, along with some additional genetic sequences that its scientists find relevant to human health. The exome (the protein-coding region of the human genome) represents less than 2 percent of the genome but contains about 85 percent of known disease-related genetic variants. The company says it will keep your genetic information securely on file.

Customers can now purchase various genetic testing "apps" from about a dozen vendors in Helix's genomics marketplace. Helix will share the relevant sections of your exome with the vendors, who then provide the results of their readouts directly to you.

The current options include an ancestry testing app from National Geographic ($69.95); a family planning test from Sema4 ($199) that tells you if you are a carrier of any of 67 different genetic variants that might affect the health of your prospective children; a fitness app from Exploragen ($24.99) that identifies genes that may affect your sleep pattern; a health app from Admera ($124.99) that tests for a genetic predisposition to having high levels of bad cholesterol; and a nutritional app from Everlywell ($249) that tests for food senstivities that may be related to your genetic makeup. There is even a wine explorer entertainment app by Vinome ($29.99), which claims to match your genes to your vintage tastes.

Now that Helix has created a genomics marketplace, the company plans to add new validated tests from additional app vendors over time. Once they become available, Helix customers can purchase them and then simply have their online genetic information sent along for analysis. Prior to getting the results from the health apps in the marketplace, customer's health histories are evaluated by physicians from an independent third party network.

That part—the evaluation of health app results by independent physicians—is clearly aimed at getting around the Food and Drug Administration's outrageous ban on direct-to-consumer genetic testing. The ban essentially began in 2013, when the agency shut down the personal genomics start-up 23andMe. In April of this year, the agency finally relented somewhat and allowed 23andMe to offer tests to identify genetic variants that contribute to 10 different conditions, including Parkinson's disease, late-onset Alzheimer's disease, and a blood-clotting disorder. But tight restrictions are still in place. When I was an early customer, the company provided me with genetic insights not just about those 10 health risks, but also about 140 others.

We will never know how much further along companies, customers, and medical practitioners would be now had the government not hamfistedly stymied the development of direct-to-consumer genetic testing for four years. The good news is that the Helix marketplace model seems designed to work around such regulatory excesses and enable Americans to gain access to their genetic information.

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    1. To further escape FDA over-regulation, and American Feng-Shui fortune-telling company needs to set up cheap-Chinese-labor Feng-Shui molecular analysis fortune-telling services based in China. Send a Q-tip with cheek swab material over there, get yer Feng-Shui fortune told!

      Last I heard, fortune telling was VERY lightly regulated here… So GO FOR IT!!!!

      If “The Bastards” are going to forbid the export of dirty Q-Tips, or the importation of simple DATA, fer Chrissakes, they need to be Named and Shamed!!!!

  1. Very cool. I like. But can we move past this paradigm that your generic code is the exome? The exome is like the alphabet and about 2% of your genome. The rest of the genome is not junk, but specifies how that alphabet is used to make words and sentences. And let’s not forget all that methylation, histone modifications, and non-coding RNA floating around (a great deal of the other 98% codes for such RNA). The cell is very complicated indeed, and we have just scratched the surface. The code paradigm is holding us back.

    1. CMN1: Yes, but this is a pretty big step in the right direction.

      1. No doubt, Ron. Thanks for the article. Just pointing out that paradigms are important, for they set our horizons.

        1. Ron, I recommend you check out the writings of Denis Noble.

    2. Sort of like those who think all the miscellaneous words in a language our useless. Definite versus indefinite articles, gendered prepositions, declensions and conjugations when simple word order will suffice. All that “useless” stuff. Turns out they’re not useless, and there’s solid information theory to back up why they’re important. Human language is overly redundant in order to facility communication. If human language were like a computer language, than a simple misheard syllable would prevent understanding of the entire sentence. If genes were like computer languages, a single missing alelle would prevent all gene expression.

  2. Will it be taxed and regulated to give it legitimacy?

  3. She can test my genome any time.

    1. I don’t hook up with alt-right chicks.

      1. you ask first?

  4. There is even a wine explorer entertainment app by Vinome ($29.99), which claims to match your genes to your vintage tastes.

    I ain’t need a $30 app to know that Chilean tempranillos are bomb.

    1. But how much booze did you have to try before you learned that? I bet it cost more than $30. Think of all that wrong booze you drank before you learned what the right booze was. What a waste!

      1. >>>booze you drank . . . What a waste!

        mutually exclusive?

        1. No, it’s the opportunity cost. If he had known what was good right from the start, all that time and money could have been spent on the good stuff, not the wrong stuff.

    2. CX: Tempranillos are nice. If you haven’t had a chance, try Chilean Carmen?res. As for me, Rhone blends are generally the way to go.

      1. Haven’t been drinking much wine lately, but i’ll check it out.

  5. “Dammit, Carla, you forgot to wear your clothes to work again today.”

    1. shhhh…

      1. She looks like she’s okay with that.

        1. good start.

  6. I wish more companies could take a standard test genetic test result sort of how promethease does. I have my sequence already so don’t want to have to spend another $80 just to get maybe use their marketplace

  7. the Food and Drug Administration’s outrageous ban on direct-to-consumer genetic testing

    Let no one ever accuse the FDA of being not evil.

  8. Interesting how an article about the wonders of new methods of manipulating genes, uses as its thumbnail an excellent reminder of how much more fun the old way of doing it is.

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