TORONTO – A U.S. personal genetics company, 23andMe, is now offering health and ancestry information based on analysis of DNA to Canadians.
The Mountain View, Calif.-based company founded in 2006 provides home-based saliva-testing kits, which customers send in for genetic analysis.
23andMe will charge Canadian clients CDN$199 plus shipping for its personal genome service through 23andMe.ca, which the company says will help them to better understand their health and ancestry and “to possibly discover new relatives.”
Canadians will have access to 108 health-related reports that includes information on genetic risk factors for various health conditions, potential drug responses, genetic traits and inherited conditions.
“The health information available to Canadians focuses on individual genetic markers with well-established associations that have clinical validity and that could be incorporated into the management of an individual’s health,” said 23andMe CEO and co-founder Anne Wojcicki.
The company’s foray into Canada follows a move last November by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which ordered 23andMe to stop marketing health-related reports as part of its home-testing kits.
In a warning letter posted online, the FDA said the company had not shown the tests are safe or effective. It warned that erroneous results could cause customers to seek unnecessary or ineffective medical care.
In announcing its Canadian launch, 23andMe noted that its health reports are “not cleared by the FDA” and can only be purchased in Canada by Canadians. It said American customers may purchase their ancestry-only product.
The company also said more than 20,000 Canadians have already used 23andMe, and those who signed up between November 22, 2013 through September 30, 2014 will also have immediate access to their health information without additional charge.
Wojcicki said following its expansion into Canada, the company also has plans to begin marketing its personal genetics product within other countries. Currently, the kits are sold to international clients through its U.S. website.
“We were selling our health reports through the entire world and we made a choice to turn off everything and re-evaluate,” she said of the company’s direction following the FDA order.
“It is definitely part of our plan to make this available worldwide. And Canada is the first country that we are going to.”
About 80 per cent of current Canadian customers agreed to allow their identity-stripped genetic information to be used for research into a variety of medical conditions, including Parkinson’s disease.
Wojcicki said a key goal of 23andMe is providing DNA-based information that could encourage people to improve their lifestyles in order to prevent diseases for which they may have an inherited predisposition.
“To me, that’s actually the most exciting part of community-driven research, is that there’s more of an incentive for all of us to think about prevention, but there’s not really an economic incentive for the health system to finance prevention,” she said.
Wojcicki said her father, a particle physicist, taught her the importance of having good data for research.
“And the more data that we have, the more we’re going to discover,” she said of expanding the pool of genetic information available for research through 23andMe, one of several companies that offer personal genetics services.
“So for me, the more data that you have, the more we will improve our health.”