Friday, May 30, 2008

new marketing strategy: RESEARCH

by Beyond Lab

You have probably already heard that 23andme established a collaboration with Parkinson's Institute to work on a system to use computer and internet to assess the relationship between patients' medical information, genes and Parkinson's Disease. This is not only a completely new thing to everyone, but also a very clever way to promote the companies' personal genomics services. Research to promote business -- Hasn't this been going on for a long time except no involvement of computers and internet.

Because it is so new, a lot of ideas need to be developed by the collaborators. They need to prove the principle actually works. Just to name a few challenges: an internet based information collection, analysis and distribution system (which is far mor complicated than a conventional database); a way to use this information and personal genomes securely; how to expand to other disease models for example diabetes ...

Although Beyond Lab has no doubt of the potential success, it takes time to let both the academics and general community accept the concepts. Let's keep an eye on it.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

personal genome service in China

by Beyond Lab

Last year my brother had chances to interact with several personal genomics companies in China. From his first hand experience, I briefly describe the situation of industrialization of personal genomics services in China. There seem to be some success in terms of marketing in this premature market.

There are about 4~5 private companies promoting sequencing genome for individuals. The most success one was established by several marketing experts. Among those are an editor China Daily news paper press, a marketing specialist (who is the president), a graduate student of Peking University (this is the only “scientist”), a novel writer, a lawyer. What's obvious from this combination is that they are good at marketing. In fact, according to them, they've sell up to 300 million Chinese Yuan of personal microarray genomic services in about one year last year. Their "success" also relies on another factor -- China has 1.4 billion people and the rich have too money to consume. Those rich people are keen to try new technology even if they don't understand it at all. This is called "fashion".

Their marketing strategy is massive media broadcasting and training workshops. They take advantage of the fact that so many people are looking for chances to make money and so many people can be easily talked into new things. So, they recruit a lot of distributors, who have to pay them a certain amount of money to join,to do the actual person-to-person marketing in hospitals and health related business areas. They are quite successful so far.

Another company takes a different approach. They collaborate with one academic organization to promote personal genomic services to children. Since children are parents' future and main focus, people are willing to pay for this kind of new things such as a microarray analysis if breast cancer related genes etc.

Still one more company is trying a governmental approach. The company director established some relationship with Department of Health of central government and persuaded the Department to develop a suggestive medical protocol for genetic testing in favor of this companies' product (one of which is similar to above breast cancer microarray). Once this protocol is distributed to hospitals, there will be doctors prescribe these related tests. How good is this approach? There is not enough data yet. But it is certainly interesting to follow up.

I don't know any company is providing SNP personal service in China as of now.

You may find some of these are special to China. But this is still the beginning of the field. Marketing of personal genome service is a challenge around the world.

Friday, May 23, 2008

personal genomics and cancer treatment, another model

by Beyond Lab

A recent extensive study showed that different genetic mutations (personal genomics)of a single gene could result in different drug response.

The most common lung cancer - non-small cell lung cancer - is associated with mutations of a gene called EGFR. Using AstaZeneca’s cancer drug Iressa (gefitinib), this study found that patients' drug-response, to a large degree, depends on the specific mutations. Without going into the details, this study indeed support the potential application of personal genomics in medical practice. Once enough genetic, genomic and clinical information is accumulated, doctors could select treatment that will sure be effective based on patients' genome -- so called personalized medicine.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

mourn the dead, join rescue efforts

by Beyond Lab

Help those people in Sichuan, China!!!!

An extended question, if all the dead in the earthquake had their personal genomes (or some cells) stored somewhere, do you agree to clone them? --Or even just the children?

Thursday, May 15, 2008

disease links and personal genomics

by Beyond Lab

"Most biology today is low input, high throughput, no output biology" --Sydney Brenner (on the conference to celebrate 25th anniversary of GenBank April 2008) commented on the current information crisis in biology.

This is exactly true for personal genomics. Modern high throughput biology research has generated so much data that exceed the capacity of data storage hardware many times. For example, new DNA sequencing technique easily generates gigabyte-level data. These new techniques will make the $1000 personal genome possible in a few years.

However what do the data tell us? Not so much. There are only a number of cases where the linkage between genes and diseases has been established, such as BRCA1 and breast cancer. We are still at the starting point now in terms of genome-wide association study. The complexity of our body, the complexity of genome regulation and epigenome regulation all make this a tough work. Plus new techniques and theories appear quickly and a lot of our knowledge has to be modified, even completely discarded. And a lot of current research is not solid enough to establish the clear links we need clinically. It is still a long way before we can comfortably say that we KNOW our genome!

Researchers have to be able to be patient enough to collect more data. Personal genomics customers have to be patient enough before your genome get decoded. Don't be too excited by personal genomics companies' marketing tricks.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Al Gore and personal genomics

by Beyond Lab

Do you know that Al Gore, former Vice President and Nobel Prize winner, has a close connection to personal genomics company Navigenics?

Here it is. Gore is a partner with the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins, the lead investor in Navigenics. Navigenics co-founder David Agus is also his friend. He said at one occasion on Navigenics that "it's going to be a fantastic success." However if you think about it, how much does he know about gene, genome and diseases?? Probably not much. Because he is certainly not in the field.

But if he promotes this personal genomics service like he promoted his global warming film, Beyond Lab thinks that Navigenics could actually get some sort of success. --Just joking.

But this certainly could be one of Navigenics' marketing places.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Blood Matters, facing genetic mutations

by Beyond Lab

What will happen after having your personal genome mapped (or sequenced or SNP'ed)? Will your life be changed if there is an well-established disease causing mutation?

If you are wondering these questions, please check this book out.

Blood Matters From Inherited Illness to Designer Babies, How the World and I Found Ourselves in the Future of the Gene. By Masha Gessen.

Masha carries a known BRCA1 mutation which is known to be a cause of breast cancer and ovary cancer. She inherited this mutation from her mother who died of breast cancer. This book described how her life has been changed after knowing the positive mutation. She has several options: 1, ignore it and live a "normal" life; 2. have breasts removed; 3. have ovaries removed; 4. have both breasts and ovaries removed; 5. monitor closely (which you should do anyway); 6. try to improve physical/immune system and fight against potential cancer.

What's her choice?

Although I haven't read the book yet, it certainly is on my list.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

talks on consumer genomics or personal genome

by Beyond Lab

As noted in one of my earlier posts, there are a lot of issues surrounding consumer genomics (personal genome) services /products and talks between academic and industry are required. Well one such discussion just happened last week at Cold Spring Harbor Lab (CSHL).

At the Biology of Genomes meeting at CSHL, one section witnessed Dietrich Stephan, co-founder and CSO of Navigenics; Linda Avey, 23andMe co-founder; Kari Stefansson, deCodeme president, CEO, and director; Francis Collins, director of the National Human Genome Research Institute. Other participants included Kathy Hudson from Johns Hopkins University and Joseph McInerney from the National Coalition for Health Professional Education in Genetics. Eric Lander was also there.

A lot of "existing" issues were discussed, especially the usefulness of personal genome. If you want to know more about the discussions please visit Daniel Macarthur's blog. I really like the comments about "a 'wiki-style' catalog of genetic associations".

Thursday, May 8, 2008

moving week

by Beyond Lab

This week we are moving the lab to a new building. You can't imaging how much stuff you have until it is time to pack. Fortunately, the moving is just next door -- we don't have to pack every tube and every reagent. We can carry most of them on carts and move ourselves. But still there are a lot of work -- defrosting freezers, rearranging equipment and so on.

But still, this is much easier compared to two years ago when the whole lab relocated from New York to Florida. That was a one month down time.

Now, we hope the down time will be only one week. --Just hope, I am not confident. There are inevitably a lot of problems in a new building, for example we have discovered that there are not enough internet ports, weak wireless signal, lacking power outlets, tables, chairs etc. Most ridiculous is that my assigned cubicle doesn't have any power outlet. There are outlets on both sides but there is no way my lights or laptop power cord could reach them.

Well, as long as they can fix them quickly.