San Francisco, CA – I’ve been thinking about genomic testing a lot lately. Apparently my television viewing patterns have put me squarely in the path of DNA Ancestry‘s media buy, and the prospect of learning more about my background and genetic ethnicity is very compelling. I have a young son, and someday I’d like to be able to share a richer history with him than my parents were able to share with me (lots of ‘gray areas’ on my mom’s side!). I’m also interested in predictive testing. I’m fairly healthy now, but wouldn’t mind knowing if there is anything that I should be concerned about in the future (again, probably the new parent in me).

And while there are a ton of genomic testing options these days–DNA Ancestry, 23andMedeCODE GeneticsGene By Gene, and Gene Planet are some of the biggest names—none of my research has led me to pull the trigger on any of them. For one thing, it’s confusing to try to compare and understand the different offerings and unique features that each possesses. Another issue is that there is a wide range of prices for the services, anywhere from a hundred to thousands of dollars. Right now, the urgency for me just isn’t there and there is no real standout, so consider me a fence sitter until something comes along that really speaks to me. Apparently there are plenty of others that feel the same way (it’s a big fence), and one company is making some serious moves to tap into that potential market by flipping the entire dynamic of consumer genomic testing.

Last week, Illumina, a leader in gene-sequencing technology (their equipment basically fuels the efforts of those top testing companies listed above) announced plans to launch a new company that has the potential to completely reframe the approach that consumers take to exploring their genetic makeup and in doing so, make it a bit more mainstream. Named Helix, the company would serve as a sort of one-stop “app store” where you would have your DNA sequenced once, and then pay as you go to unlock more information or leverage your genetic info in new ways as future uses are discovered. Helix will handle the sequencing and storing of the genomes and then serve it up to any app that is developed by 3rd party partners.

In this model, Helix will sequence and store your whole genome, but price points will be kept low (like an app store), because you’ll receive just the specific info that you’re interested in. If you order a new app in the future, it will tap back into that stored sequence, and again, pull just what is needed for another small fee. By replicating a format that most people are familiar with, Helix is hoping to engage a lot of us fence sitters. They’re also betting that this model will spur a lot of fast innovation in the genetics field by removing the need to invest in your own lab to launch a startup.

The story of Helix seems to be yet another example of a trend that we’ve been seeing over the past few years—building health engagements that leverage the mechanics or framework of experiences we’re having in our day-to-day consumer lives. We’ve certainly covered a bunch of them in this blog. From Iodine’s Yelp/Consumer Reports-style approach to empowering smarter decision making on medicines, to HelpAround bringing share economy techniques to chronic disease management. The ways in which we navigate the world of health are feeling more familiar all the time.

About the Author:

Jeffrey Giermek