Era of Over-the-Counter DNA Diagnostic Test Arrives in San Diego

4/30/09

A suburban healthcare group began selling personal DNA testing kits in San Diego this week, enabling ordinary people to buy an over-the-counter test to determine their predispositon to genetic disease.

The Personal Genome Service packages, which retail for $399, were previously only available online. The first DNA kits ordered by San Diego’s Palomar Pomerado Health (PPH), the largest public healthcare district in California, were quickly purchased by PPH CEO Michael H. Covert and other employees, according to Andy Hoang, a PPH media relations manager. “This truly interests people,” Hoang said. The healthcare district, which operates two hospitals and provides a variety of other medical services, has received hundreds of inquiries about the kits, Hoang said. Making the DNA kits available to the public, he added, puts PPH at the forefront of preventive personalized health care.

The diagnostic kit was developed by 23andMe, a startup based in Mountain View, CA, that received $8.9 million in Series A venture funding in 2007 from Google, MDV, Genentech, and New Enterprise Associates. The CEO, Anne Wojcicki, is married to Google co-founder Sergey Brin. To perform the test, a customer spits into a test tube (23andMe maintains a blog called, The Spittoon) and sends the sample to 23andMe for diagnostic screening that uses a machine developed by San Diego-based Illumina. Customers are sent information about their genetic makeup and whether they are genetically prone to certain diseases or characteristics.

The San Diego Business Journal pointed out that California regulators last year questioned the accuracy and validity of the tests. 23andMe was cleared to do business again. Some experts have warned that genetics is much more complex than a quick do-it-yourself test.

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