Angelina Jolie stunned the world when she underwent a double-mastectomy in 2013, as a preventative breast cancer measure. Now, the test that convinced her to make that move could be much more readily available.
A number of start-up biotech companies are working to make genetic testing more affordable, a goal that would offer pioneering financial resources for cancer patients and those looking to lower their risk of the disease.
For instance, Color Genomics recently developed a program that enables people with a family history of breast cancer undergo the BRCA test for just $50. The BRCA test is an innovative genetic screening for a mutation in the BRCA gene, which causes up to 10 percent of breast-cancer cases in the United States. Those who test positive for the mutation face an 80-percent risk of eventually developing breast cancer.
Knowing that risk has led some people, like Jolie, to take preventative measures to reduce their chance of developing breast cancer. But those individuals are few and far between, as cost has traditionally been a major barrier: The BRCA test has averaged about $4,000.
Startups like Color are changing the game for genetic testing by providing financial resources for cancer patients and those wishing to test for specific genes. Such organizations build and use their own diagnostic labs, instead of conventional methods, and employ robots, 3-D printers and machines to collect, process and analyze data. By reducing overhead costs that traditional labs encounter such as for manpower and software, startups are ultimately able to offer their products to the consumers at a more affordable rate.
In addition to Color’s $50 test, it is also offering a $249 option that screens for BRCA and a number of other genetic mutations. Fellow startup Counsyl provides genetic-testing options that include the BRCA test for anywhere from $350-$900. Overall, about 80 startups are pursuing genetic testing that is both accessible and affordable for consumers.
However, not everyone is completely on board. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has been cracking down on companies offering DNA testing directly to the public, though some officials have indicated that the agency could back certain companies that prioritize public safety and health.
After all, the more readily that members of the public can understand their own health risks, the better prepared they are to face them. Cancer is no exception.
Innovative financial resources for cancer patients and their families, such as affordable screenings, are an important step forward in the fight against cancer.