Personal DNA scanning service 23andMe on Tuesday is scheduled to announce that it is lowering the price of its gene-mapping service from $999 to $399 in order to attract more customers and expand its database of individual genetic profiles to bolster medical research, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.
The price cut is made possible by a new gene-scanning computer chip made by Illumina. The discount makes the firm the least costly among competitors, whose prices range from about $1,000 to $2,500.
These firms analyze a sampling of genes to find variations that could indicate an individual's increased risk for certain diseases or behavioral traits. 23andMe also offers social networking features that allow customers to share their results with family and friends. The company compiles the genetic information into databases, to which researchers can gain access.
23andMe co-founder Anne Wojcicki said, "We're really focusing on the democratization of genetic information" (Tansey, San Francisco Chronicle, 9/9). The firm hopes the price cut will provide an influx of genetic information and "hasten the day when a full genetic screening becomes routine medical practice," the AP/Denver Post reports. Wojcicki said, "The mission of the company has always been to enable anyone to be able to get access to their genetic information. We really believe strongly that at some point everyone who's born will get genotyped," adding, "You'll have your information and you'll use that to help guide some of your health care decisions." Linda Avey, the company's other co-founder, said, "It's just a data problem. We don't have enough" (Wohlsen, AP/Denver Post, 9/8). Avey said if the price "was what was really holding [consumers] back, this will be a better price for them to get involved" (Pollack, New York Times, 9/9).
However, some have raised concerns about the technology. Public health officials have said knowledge of the relationships between genes and most diseases is not sufficient to be used in making serious medical decisions. Many have urged physicians, most of whom are not trained in interpreting results of gene tests, to encourage patients to be skeptical of such direct-to-consumer tests (AP/Denver Post, 9/8). Robert Nussbaum, chief of the medical genetics division at University of California-San Francisco School of Medicine, said, "The question is, 'What are the unanticipated consequences?'" (San Francisco Chronicle, 9/9). New York and California regulators have ordered that gene scanning companies stop advertising to consumers until the businesses obtain a license to offer medical tests. The states also have required that physicians order the tests (New York Times, 9/9).