Nutrigene wants to personalize your vitamins using your genetic code

Vitamins are proving to be a lucrative industry in the United States. Just last year vitamin sales pulled in roughly $37 billion for the U.S. economy. That’s up from $28 billion in 2010. To cash in on this growing market, several startups have popped up in the last few years — including Nutrigene, a startup combining […]

Vitamins are proving to be a lucrative industry in the United States. Just last year vitamin sales pulled in roughly $37 billion for the U.S. economy. That’s up from $28 billion in 2010. To cash in on this growing market, several startups have popped up in the last few years — including Nutrigene, a startup combining the vitamin business with another lucrative avenue of revenue in consumer DNA analysis.

Nutrigene believes your genes may hold the secret to what you might be missing in your diet. The company will send you tailor-made liquid vitamin supplements based on a lifestyle quiz and your DNA. You get your analysis by filling out an assessment on the startup’s website, choosing a recommended package such as “essentials,” “improve performance” or “optimize gut health.” After that you can also choose to upload your DNA profile from 23andMe, then Nutrigene will send you liquid supplements built just for you.

Founder Min FitzGerald launched the startup out of Singularity and later accepted a Google fellowship for the idea. Nutrigene then went on to Y Combinator’s winter 2018 class. FitzGerald’s co-founder and CTO Van Duesterberg comes from a biotech and epigenetics background and holds a PhD from Stanford.

PhDs and impressive resumes aside, the vitamin and genetics industries are not without controversy. For every study showing that those who eat a balanced diet don’t benefit from supplements, there are just as many highlighting the benefits of taking your vitamins. Also, coupling vitamin therapy with your DNA seems at a glance dubious. However, Dawn Barry, former VP at Illumina and now president of Luna DNA, a biotech company powered by the blockchain, says it could have some scientific underpinnings. But, she cautioned, nutrigenetics is still an early science.

Amir Trabelsi, founder of genetic analysis platform Genoox, agrees. We interviewed both Trabelsi and Barry previously when Nutrigene first came on our radar. Trabelsi pointed out these types of companies don’t need to provide any proof.

“That doesn’t mean it’s completely wrong,” he told TechCrunch. “But we don’t know enough to say this person should use Vitamin A, for example… There needs to be more trials and observation.”

Nutrigene acknowledges the best supplementation for performance goes beyond just a genetic profile. Our lifestyles, where we live, what we do and what we put in our bodies (or don’t) all can contribute to a deficiency. For better nutritional accuracy, Nutrigene will send you a blood test kit in the mail to test for things like Vitamin D deficiency (a common deficiency in Silicon Valley, according to my doctor). You also can choose to go to a blood testing center to find out what sort of nutritional supplements you’ll need for optimal performance.

One other twist — Nutrigene’s vitamins come in liquid form for what FitzGerald says is the optimum delivery method.

I tried out the program for myself earlier this year, though not for more than a few days as I was pregnant at the time and wanted to stick with the prenatal vitamins I’d been taking. Nothing I saw on the packaging from Nutrigene was dangerous for pregnant women, just run-of-the-mill stuff like vitamin B12, which my genetic analysis said I was prone to be deficient in. But I had already been taking some pretty good prenatal vitamins from New Chapter and a DHA supplement from Nordic Naturals for a year leading up to getting pregnant. I had a very healthy, nearly 9.5 pound baby boy in March. My own doctor, who tested my nutritional levels at the beginning of my pregnancy through a blood sample, did not tell me I had any deficiencies.

That’s not to say it wouldn’t be great for someone else looking for optimal nutrition and wanting a boost through supplementation. It’s also a great industry to get into if you know how to market your products. Though crowded, there’s plenty of room to grow and billions of dollars in the vitamin industry for those who can make their products stand out. DNA analysis and liquid supplementation might just be the thing.

FitzGerald tells TechCrunch that Nutrigene has already shipped 8,500 personalized dosages to customers since launching earlier this year.

For those interested in trying out Nutrigene, you can do so by ordering on the website. Package pricing varies and depends on nutritional needs, but starts at around $85 per month.

23andMe might soon offer a more comprehensive $749 DNA service

23andMe is testing a $749 “premium” service for deeper health insights, according to several customers who saw a test page for the new product and posted about it on Reddit. First spotted by CNBC, the company served up a test web page to several customers telling them about a service that would allow them to […]

23andMe is testing a $749 “premium” service for deeper health insights, according to several customers who saw a test page for the new product and posted about it on Reddit.

First spotted by CNBC, the company served up a test web page to several customers telling them about a service that would allow them to look at their “whole genome data.” However, when they clicked on the link provided, nothing happened. A few Redditors even posited the notification may have been a mistake as the link led nowhere.

But, according to the company, there’s no error here. 23andMe later confirmed to TechCrunch it sent out a test page to some customers to “gauge interest” in such a product. However, there’s “nothing planned” at this time for such a service, according to a 23andMe spokesperson.

The consumer DNA company charges $299 for its highest package right now, and includes a breakdown of both health and ancestry using all 23 of your chromosomes (hence the name). The cost to sequence your whole genome is currently just under $1,000 so it’s not clear if 23andMe would lower the price to sequence all of a customer’s DNA or if they would offer a comprehensive analysis of a good chunk of your genome.

One other possibility is that the company was exploring diving back into next-generation sequencing, which it abandoned in 2016. Next-generation sequencing was regarded as too complex at the time and the company wanted to focus on a technique that would expedite research efforts as it was cozying up to the drug research market.

However, 23andMe tells TechCrunch that’s not the case, and that it has no plans to get back into next-generation sequencing, instead sticking to genotyping, which offers much richer data on specific traits consumers may be interested in, such as if they’re prone to get fatter than average or if they’re a carrier for Alzheimer’s disease.

We don’t know if 23andMe will produce this particular product, but we do know the company is thinking up other streams of revenue in the future and, according to the company, working on something more comprehensive than genotyping. We’ll be sure to let you know if and when they can tell us more about what they’re spinning up.

23andMe underscores that privacy-loving customers need to opt out of its data deal with GlaxoSmithKline

23andMe, the genetics testing company, is in a state of constant evolution, as you’d expect any 12-year-old company would be. But that also means that customers need to be aware of how the company is using data that users may have earlier consented to give without anticipating its newer initiatives. One new tie-up was a […]

23andMe, the genetics testing company, is in a state of constant evolution, as you’d expect any 12-year-old company would be. But that also means that customers need to be aware of how the company is using data that users may have earlier consented to give without anticipating its newer initiatives.

One new tie-up was a particular point of interest here at TechCrunch’s massive Disrupt show, taking place this week in San Francisco. Specifically, CEO and co-founder Anne Wojcicki was asked a series of questions about 23andMe’s pact with pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, which announced in July that it acquired a $300 million stake in 23andMe in order to more efficiently develop drugs. As part of the four-year-deal, GSK gains exclusive rights to mine 23andMe’s customer data to more quickly and efficiently develop drug targets. Said Wojcicki of the partnership: “If we start with genetics, will we have a higher success rate” when it comes to drug development? (She clearly thinks so.)

As Wired reported last month, this isn’t entirely new terrain for the company. 23andMe has for the last three-and-a-half years been sharing insights gleaned from many of the more than 5 million people who’ve sent their spit to 23andMe. It just used to be that it shared that information with GSK and six other pharmaceutical and biotechnology firms. Now, GSK alone will be able to access what Wojcicki describes as aggregated and wholly anonymized customer information.

Even still, in an age where privacy leaks are rampant, 23andMe customers have expressed some chagrin about the deal, and Wojcicki’s chat today might not assuage them. The reason, as she underscored: 23andMe customers aren’t being asked to opt in to this data-sharing agreement, but rather, they are being told they can opt-out via email. The move assumes that someone who bought a 23andMe kit years ago will respond to an email from 23andMe that gives them this option, when, let’s face it, many may never even see the email, let alone open it.

What consumers may well like better is the future that Wojcicki imagines for 23andMe, one that focuses not so much on drug development but also, and perhaps even predominately, on prevention.

The idea, said Wojcicki, is to rely on 23andMe’s “community” of customers who tell the company “all kinds of things” about themselves — then potentially figure out connections between these disparate things. “Some people have Crohn’s disease. Some have heart issues. People have everything,” and sometimes at once, she suggested. Meanwhile, 23andMe is uniquely able to help figure out links that siloed research cannot.

Relatedly, the company hopes to do more to help its customers manage conditions that they may be prone to develop. If someone appears to have a heightened risk of macular degeneration, for example, 23andMe might suggest that the customer wear sunglasses and take vitamins and get tested as soon as possible. If someone appears to have a heightened risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, the progressive nervous system disorder that 60,000 Americans are diagnosed with each year, 23andMe hopes eventually to be helpful in preventing or mitigating the outcome of the disease, she said.

What 23andMe will never do, said Wojcicki, is work with police departments to help it identify any of its customers. As she explained it, 23andMe requires “a lot of saliva from customers specifically for privacy issues.” (She noted that a smaller amount — as with drool that might escape the mouth of someone who’s asleep — isn’t sufficient.) 23andMe also prevents people from uploading data from outside sources in order to try to make connections, as happened in the case of the so-called Golden State Killer, wherein investigators used an open-source genetic database, GEDmatch, to explore family trees and see whether any contained matches to DNA samples from the crime scenes they studied.

It worked. The killer was caught. But 23andMe has a moral obligation only to its customers, she said. When law enforcement knocks, said Wojcicki, “We say no.”

You can check out the full discussion here.

George Church’s genetics on the blockchain startup just raised $4.3 million from Khosla

Nebula Genomics, the startup that wants to put your whole genome on the blockchain, has announced the raise of $4.3 million in Series A from Khosla Ventures and other leading tech VC’s such as Arch Venture Partners, Fenbushi Capital, Mayfield, F-Prime Capital Partners, Great Point Ventures, Windham Venture Partners, Hemi Ventures, Mirae Asset, Hikma Ventures and […]

Nebula Genomics, the startup that wants to put your whole genome on the blockchain, has announced the raise of $4.3 million in Series A from Khosla Ventures and other leading tech VC’s such as Arch Venture Partners, Fenbushi Capital, Mayfield, F-Prime Capital Partners, Great Point Ventures, Windham Venture Partners, Hemi Ventures, Mirae Asset, Hikma Ventures and Heartbeat Labs.

Nebula has also has forged a partnership with genome sequencing company Veritas Genetics.

Veritas was one of the first companies to sequence the entire human genome for less than $1,000 in 2015, later adding all that info to the touch of a button on your smartphone. Both Nebula and Veritas were cofounded by MIT professor and “godfather” of the Human Genome Project, George Church.

The partnership between the two companies will allow the Nebula marketplace, or the place where those consenting to share their genetic data can earn Nebula’s cryptocurrency called “Nebula tokens” to build upon Veritas open-source software platform Arvados, which can process and share large amounts of genetic information and other big data. According to the company, this crossover offers privacy and security for the physical storage and management of various data sets according to local rules and regulations.

“As our own database grows to many petabytes, together with the Nebula team we are taking the lead in our industry to protect the privacy of consumers while enabling them to participate in research and benefit from the blockchain-based marketplace Nebula is building,” Veritas CEO Mirza Cifric said in a statement.

The partnership will work with various academic institutions and industry researchers to provide genomic data from individual consumers looking to cash in by sharing their own data, rather than by freely giving it as they might through another genomics company like 23andMe .

“Compared to centralized databases, Nebula’s decentralized and federated architecture will help address privacy concerns and incentivize data sharing,” added Nebula Genomics co-founder Dennis Grishin. “Our goal is to create a data flow that will accelerate medical research and catalyze a transformation of health care.”

23andMe’s ancestry tools are getting better for people of color

23andMe is beefing up its African, East Asian and Native American ancestry capabilities — something it has sorely lacked. Specifically, 23andMe has added to its database 12 new regions across Africa and East Asia. When I first tried 23andMe a few years ago, it told me I was 71 percent West African, which tells me […]

23andMe is beefing up its African, East Asian and Native American ancestry capabilities — something it has sorely lacked. Specifically, 23andMe has added to its database 12 new regions across Africa and East Asia. When I first tried 23andMe a few years ago, it told me I was 71 percent West African, which tells me next to nothing about which countries the bulk of my ancestry comes from. Well, that’s all changing — though, I already received the information from Ancestry — with 23andMe’s latest product update.

“Key to this update is really the availability of more data from around the world, specifically in Africa and Asia,” 23andMe Senior Product Manager Robin Smith told TechCrunch. “It’s possible through certain initiatives, like the African Genetics Project and Global Genetics Project.”

Before, 23andMe only provided three subgroups in the Sub-Saharan Africa region. Now, there are eight additional subgroups in the area, as well as four additional populations in East Asia.

Here are the 12 additional populations on 23andMe:

  1. Southern East African
  2. Congolese
  3. Coastal West African
  4. Ethiopian & Eritrean
  5. Senegambian & Guinean
  6. Nigerian
  7. Somali
  8. Sudanese
  9. Chinese Dai
  10. . Vietnamese
  11.  Filipino
  12. . Indonesian, Thai, Khmer & Myanma

23andMe first launched in 2007, but it’s taken a long time to collect the data needed to provide a more comprehensive genealogical view to certain populations. Roughly 75 percent of 23andMe’s customers are of European descent, 23andMe CEO Anne Wojcicki said at TechCrunch Disrupt SF 2017. So, 23andMe realized “at some point that we needed these initiatives to go out and get the data,” Smith said.

For early 23andMe adopters, they’re going to have to re-take the test because this update is only available for people on the most recent genotyping chip, Smith said. 23andMe is now on the fifth version of its chip, which he said is “reflective of a better idea of the diversity of the world.”

That means they’ll either have to buy a new kit or opt-in for a yet-to-be-available upgrade program, Smith said. Beyond this update, 23andMe plans to regularly release updates and continue adding new populations.

“We haven’t done an update like this in a long time,” Smith said. “It’s been on our roadmap for many years now.”

Last September, 23andMe raised $250 million at around a $1.75 billion valuation. As part of that capital raise, Wojcicki said, 23andMe planned to work to expand the diversity of the data and the research on that diversity.

In addition to ancestral information, 23andMe also offers health reports. Earlier in 2017, the Food and Drug Administration started allowing 23andMe to test for 10 different genetic risk tests, including ones for Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. In addition to testing risks for certain diseases, 23andMe also tells you fun facts like how your DNA influences your appearance, preferences and physical responses.

I’ll be retaking the 23andMe test soon and will let you all know what I find. In the meantime, a researcher over at 23andMe shared a before and after look at their results. Check it out below.