24 DNA Apps on Offer from Illumina’s Helix
It was just about one year ago that we wrote an article titled Illumina Stock Price Says Buy Me Now! at which time we picked up a whole bunch of shares in Illumina (NASDAQ:ILMN) for about $140 per share. Fast forward to today and we see that those shares have appreciated about +49% to around $206 per share. This means we can now start talking about what market timing geniuses we are and how we’re “cautiously optimistic” about future price appreciation. That’s amateur thinking though, because seasoned investors know that we’re just one black swan away from shares breaching their 52-week low of $119.37 and our position going into the red. What we decided to do this week was trim (what was) our single largest stock position and take a look at one of Illumina’s “irons in the fire” for future potential growth – Helix.
With $1.2 billion of cash sitting in their coffers, ILMN hasn’t been shy about making select investments for future growth. They spun out a cancer blood-testing startup called Grail which has now taken $1 billion in funding. They’ve since backed off Grail a bit and now own less than 20% of that venture. In a bid to diversify their bets, today it was announced that Illumina has closed on $230 million for their new genomics venture fund called Illumina Ventures which will make select investments in promising genomics companies (in other words, they’re keeping tabs on their future customers). In August of 2015, they made a $100 million investment in a venture called Helix, and in July of this year, Helix came online. Let’s take a closer look at the DNA apps on offer from Helix.
There has been a great deal of talk lately about data privacy (think Equifax breach) and perhaps the most important piece of information you carry around with you is your DNA. A single strand of DNA contains around 700 gigs of information, or about this many phonebooks worth:
Update 06/07/2021: Helix has raised $50 million in Series C funding to expand their DNA testing “app store,” where customers can buy third-party DNA analysis products powered by their sequencing technology. This brings the company’s total funding to $403 million to date.
In the past decade, we’ve seen the emergence of many genetic testing companies that are trying to get their hands on your DNA while offering up things in exchange like genetic tests or health tests. But not all those tests capture the same amount of data. Taken from the Helix website, “Helix’s proprietary technology, called Exome+, reads every letter of all 22,000 protein-coding genes in your body, which produces 100 times more data than most consumer genetics companies”. Instead of giving your DNA out to 5 different test providers and having 5X the chance of your data being hacked, why not just give your DNA data to a single test provider who will then make only certain portions of your DNA accessible to test providers who build DNA apps that you give approval to access your DNA data? That’s the business model Helix has come up with and now it’s live. Once you’ve paid the $80 entrance fee to get your DNA sequenced by Helix, here are the sorts of tests you can then access:
Helix Ancestry Genetic Tests
When it comes to ancestry tests, we’ve taken a comprehensive look at the most popular tests out there. The question is if these test providers will eventually cave and provide their tests on the Helix “app platform”. At the moment, we see a test that looks at Neanderthal traits (largely useless, but at a $29.99 price point), and then a test offered by National Geographic for $99.95 which looks at things like migration paths and also how much Neanderthal you have. Even though 834,000 people have taken the test, you’re probably better off going with Ancestry.com if you’re interested in that sort of thing.
Helix Entertainment Genetic Tests
It’s in the entertainment section where you just need to take everything with a grain of salt. The Wine Explorer test from a company called Vinome “discovers hard-to-find, curated wine recommendations” that are “scientifically selected based on your DNA“. Of course, it comes with a wine club but isn’t that kind of selfish that you’d make your better half drink wines that are tailored for your DNA and not theirs? Better get two subscriptions then since they’re just $29.99 or instead, spend your money on something that makes more sense than that – like a DNA scarf. Yes, for the small price of $149.99 a company called Dot One will knit you a wool scarf based on your DNA. Look how excited these people are about their new DNA scarves:
For $69.99, you can get your DNA expressed in a framed print that you can stick on the wall alongside your diplomas as evidence of how unique and special you are, just like everyone else. Then there’s a BABYGlimpse test that you can buy for your partner which you both take ($189.98) to see what traits your baby might have. Alternatively, you can just go in the bedroom for
5 minutes 90 minutes and then find out the actual results 9 months later for free. Speaking of sleep, there’s also a test that “explores how your DNA influences your sleep behavior” for the small fee of $24.99. To cap it all off, the last test in the bunch helps you “discover how your height and genetics compare to a huge database of elite athletes” for $49.99. Tall good, short bad.
Helix Family and Health Genetic Tests
DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid vital for infant development, and now there’s a Breast Milk DHA+ test you can take to make sure there’s enough of it in your child’s breast milk ($89.99). If you need more things to worry about on top of that, how about a CarrierCheck test that screens for 67 inherited conditions that you can pass down to your prodigy for the small price of $199?
Once your kid grows up, they can then take an Inherited Diabetes Test for $149.99 which tells them if you passed on a rare, inherited form of diabetes that can be misdiagnosed. The same company also offers an Inherited Cholesterol Test for $124.99 which lets them know they’re predisposed to having familial hypercholesterolemia (FH) which causes extremely high “bad” cholesterol.
Helix Fitness and Nutrition Genetic Tests
These two categories of tests include the usual suspects like “the best exercises to do based on your DNA” and “what not to eat in order to avoid obesity based on your DNA” (which should largely cover all fast food no matter what your DNA says). We covered the topic of DNA fitness tests before and concluded that there just isn’t enough solid scientific dividend behind most of this stuff. When it comes to fitness and nutrition, the +30% of obese Americans don’t need a genetic test to let them know that regular exercise and a consistent approach to healthy eating is where they’re falling short. For fitness fanatics, some of these tests might be interesting though:
- Fitness Buddy: All-Access Premium ($99.99) – Find the most effective exercises and personalized workouts customized to your DNA
- Fitness Diet Pro ($219.99) – Get the deepest insights into how your DNA influences your body’s response to fitness and nutrition
- Fat Burner ($119.99) – Understand your genetic response to exercise, then take action with 12 weeks of DNA guided training
- Muscle Builder ($119.99) – Unlock blah blah training blah blah DNA blah blah 12 weeks
- Calorie Mama: All-Access Premium ($99.99) – Lose weight the smart way with nutrition and workout plans customized to your DNA
- MealPlanner ($119.99) – In-depth analysis of your genetic nutrition response + 12-weeks access to genetically personalized MealPlanner platform
- embodyDNA ($109.99) – Food and exercise habits that match your traits – the app has helped its members lose over 50 million pounds.
- Metabolism+ ($149.00) – Check current hormone levels and your genes that influence your metabolism.
- Food Sensitivity+ ($249.00) – Learn about the impact your DNA may have on your ability to digest certain foods and nutrients.
- Heart Optimizer: Genetics and Nutrition Coaching ($79.00) – Genetic data + Arivale Registered Dietitian = outline strategies for a healthy heart
- Beat Your Genes: Weight Loss Coaching ($89.00) – Armed with your genetic data, work 1-on-1 for 30 days with an Arivale Registered Dietitian
- Diet GENius ($89.99) – Helps you lose weight and improve your nutrition based on your genetic predispositions as well as food habits
As investors in Illumina (NASDAQ:ILMN), we’re really excited about the idea behind the Helix platform. It’s to be expected that the genetic tests on offer will be lackluster since this is early days for genomics. There are some obvious questions though. Will Helix offer an import function for people who have already taken tests from the many providers out there? Will the big names in the test industry climb on board? How will NIPT testing come into play here? These are all questions that need answering, but investors can be assured by the fact that Illumina’s +70% profit margins and ~80% market share make the company a great investment no matter what happens to Helix or the share price for that matter.
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