Monday, November 13, 2006

Online Gene Screening?

This summer retired computer consultant Carleton Neville went online, took out his credit card, and ordered a $500 colon cancer test from DNA Direct, a San Francisco genetic-testing service.

A few weeks later, he logged back on, read his laboratory report, and scheduled a time to discuss his clean bill of health with a counselor. "I would rather do this than have a colonoscopy," says the 65-year-old resident of Orlando, Fla.

"One-size-fits-all medicine will soon be passé," says DNA Direct founder and chief executive Ryan Phelan, a serial entrepreneur whose company currently sells genetic tests priced between $200 and $3,300 that tell consumers if they are predisposed to breast cancer or perhaps carry the gene for cystic fibrosis. "We're finally at the point where consumers can get access to personalized medicine."

DNA Direct, capitalizing on the pharmacogenetics trend, has set up a new site,, and will start selling $500 tests this fall that reveal how people will respond to various prescribed medications, including antidepressants, pain relievers, and tamoxifen, a breast cancer drug with potentially dangerous side effects.

With $3 million from angel investors, DNA Direct has enlisted certified genetic counselors and created a network of medical specialists who analyze genetic test results from Laboratory Corporation of America, one of the world's largest labs. DNA Direct clients get results explained in the context of their age and health as well as tips on how to discuss the test with their family or doctors.

DNA Direct is also working with breast cancer organizations and managed care companies, which may eventually refer patients who meet the criteria for the tests. As the pace of genomic discovery accelerates, people's desire to discover their genetic future will only grow, according to Harvard University geneticist George Church, who advises DNA Direct.

Or as Phelan puts it, "Soon genetic testing will be as routine as getting your cholesterol checked."

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