As the cost of genome sequencing continues to plummet, genetic testing will become more and more a part of our lives including genetic fitness testing. Illumina is sinking $100 million into creating the world’s largest DNA database which they hope will enable a “sequence once, test often” approach where your DNA info stays nice and secure while you then allow various companies to access parts of it for various testing applications. Right now, popular tests from 23andMe and Ancestry.com can tell you who you’re related to (or who you thought you were related to) along with allowing you to discover relatives you didn’t know you had.
Sure, we’ve started to figure out what genetic traits make you susceptible to cancer and other hereditary diseases but we’re just not sure yet about what the 700 megabytes worth of letters actually do, not to mention the combinations and permutations that are possible with such a large data set. Still having a hard time wrapping your arms around how much data that is? Maybe this will help:
That’s a stack of phone books that contains approximately 3 billion letters. Any company that claims it understands all that data and how it effects each unique person is completely full of isht. Nonetheless, all kinds of companies are cropping up claiming to be able to read your genetic profile and tell you how to live a better life. We recently came across an excellent article by a journalist named Rebecca Robbins who took 5 of the leading genetic fitness tests and concluded that the whole thing was a complete fiasco akin to having your horoscope read. Here’s an example of the types of discrepancies she found:
This was simply a brilliant piece of investigative journalism which made us wonder. Could we identify that “most accurate” of these genetic fitness tests by looking at the companies that are providing them to see who is backing them? This is not dissimilar to how we evaluate which investment opportunities might be lucrative. Follow the money. Without further ado, let’s take a look at 7 genetic fitness DNA testing companies.
Founded in 2013, UK-based startup DNA FIT was the brainchild of an entrepreneur named Avi Laservo and who was previously behind a company called Trimega Diagnostics which developed a breathalyzer for drugs. We couldn’t find any mention institutional investors funding the operation, but Mr. Laservo has managed to assemble a team of scientists who put together a whole suite of tests that are not cheap:
Nothing like having your genetic composition compared to a British Olympic athlete to make you feel inadequate. For 23andMe and Ancestry.com clients who have already had their genome sequenced, they get a big discount. Those individuals will pay just $149 for the above test suite from DNA Fit. They also are targeting personal trainers with their offering.
UPDATE 12/6/2016:DNA Fit reached out to us within 24 hours of this article being published and provided some additional information. Here’s a very good article Mr. Laservo published on Medium a few days ago talking about the Stat article (his company provided Rebecca with a 2,000 word explanatory piece in follow up). They also referred us to the DNA Fit code of practice and talked about how they are the “only fitness genetic company to actually engage in formal peer-review research” using this paper as an example. Their statement “I feel it’s important that consumers are given the full picture of the differences in the standards of the products and why it’s important the companies self-regulate” was very telling about their motivations for providing this additional detail.
Launched as far back as 2006, the man behind Genomic Express is Dr. Grant A. Bitter. We couldn’t find any mention of institutional investors backing this company but the first thing any investor would want them to do is invest some money in their website. We had a hard time really finding out what sort of tests they were offering and we’re not even sure how they could qualify as one of the “5 leading tests”. We came across this letter from the FDA addressed to Dr. Grant A. Bittner and while it isn’t about health and fitness tests, that was enough to make us move on.
Founded in 2014, Berkeley California based Kinetic dx took in an undisclosed seed funding round last year to develop genetic tests that maximize performance and minimize injury. There is an entire section on their website dedicated to educating you as to what they test and why they reach the conclusions they do. Here’s a sample report you can check out. If I’m a high performance athlete, I probably know my body pretty well. As you can see in the sample report, it’s the actionable part that seems lacking. Telling me I need to “maintain a healthy weight and lifestyle” and that I should “stretch more” is not that useful. No price points were given for their tests but it’s great to see they have backing and are being transparent about how they interpret your test results.
Founded in 2014, Orig3n has taken in $15.6 million in funding so far from a whole slew of institutional investors, one of which was Harris and Harris Group. The Company states that they are “leading a transformation in the understanding and treatment of rare, genetically inherited diseases” and to that end they have “established the world’s largest uniformly consented cell repository“. They also offer a suite of LifeProfile tests that allow you to do things like “discover your skin’s secrets” for $59 or “see how fit are your genes are” for $79. The fact that they have funding is a plus but it seems like their core focus makes their genetic fitness test offering seem like a bit of an afterthought.
Founded in 2005, Simplified Genetics does not appear to have any backing from institutional investors and was founded by Kurt Johnsen who also founded American Power Yoga. The Company offers two Simply Fit tests at price points of $249 and $499 which seem to contain the usual suspects like telling you which exercises you should do and what you should eat based on your genetic profile.
Our last company, Titanovo, was brought to our attention by one of the Company’s founders. Founded in 2015, Titanovo took in an undisclosed funding round this year and started out by offering a telomere testing kit which is the first of its kind. More recently they began offering a “DNA Lifestyle Coach” which you can demo online at this link. What we liked about their test is that if you’ve already had a DNA test performed by 23andMe or FamilyTree DNA, you can just upload your test results and they’ll give you access to the DNA Lifestyle Coach for just $60. It’s nice to see a decent price point for a change and the “app like” layout of their site seemed intuitive and welcoming. If you want to buy either of the Titanovo genetic tests, use the promo code “nanalyze” (no quotes) for 5% off.
So there we’ve given you 6 genetic fitness test companies. Now we’re going to tell you which test we think you should buy if you’re seriously considering getting the best test regardless of cost. It’s called PathwayFit and it’s offered by a company called Pathway Genomics:
Pathway Genomics wasn’t one of the tests Rebecca trialed but it is our number one pick for which test provider you should consider. Want to know why? We’ll give you three reasons. Firstly, their board of directors is one of the most politically motivated you’ll see. Why is this important? Because these types of individuals will not want a Theranos-type scandal on their hands. Secondly, Pathway Genomics is backed with $40 million in VC funding from the likes of Peter Thiel and IBM Watson. Thirdly, they’re using artificial intelligence for test interpretation which put them on our list of the top-5 AI companies in healthcare.
Would we buy any of this stuff? Maybe if we were Olympic athletes we’d pick up a PathwayFit test but until all of these companies come to the same conclusion about genetic interpretations, it’s hard to see this being anything but a toss up as to whose interpretations are best. If you’re not a professional athlete, then here’s what we would suggest. Lay off fast food and processed food then take the money you were going to spend on these tests and use it to buy a gym membership. Then actually go to the gym three times a week. If you’ve done that for a year consistently, then you should consider picking up a genetic fitness test.
Looking to buy shares in companies before they IPO? A company called Motif Investing lets you buy pre-IPO shares in companies that are led by JP Morgan. You can open an account with Motif with no deposit required so that you are ready to buy pre-IPO shares when they are offered.