Managing Editor’s Memo

New World of Genetic Tests, Drugs Makes Even the Brave Think Twice


Frank Diamond

If there’s one thing I’m a sucker for it’s a good spit quote, so I perked up when reading this: “The marketplace has been happy to respond to this fascination with genetic navel gazing, offering consumers a growing number of genetic screening tests that allows them to spit into a tube and learn about hidden health risks without bothering their physicians.”

It’s from our excellent cover story by Jan Greene (page 12) about how to deal with the proliferation of genetic testing, and it immediately set me Googling around for other good spit lines. (You’d be amazed.) One is by none other than Anne E. Wojcicki, the CEO of 23andMe, mentioned in the article: “Why should I need a prescription to spit into a vial and get my DNA read?”

And here’s another by Mark Cuban, the owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks: “I personally think there’s going to be a greater demand in 10 years for liberal arts majors than there were for programming majors and maybe even engineering, because when the data is all being spit out for you, options are being spit out for you, you need a different perspective in order to have a different view of the data.”

Those two quotes, in a nutshell, sum up two main challenges (there are many others) insurers face as genetic testing comes to the fore. How do you make sure the tests are being properly used? And how in the world can you sift through the approximately 70,000 genetic tests that have emerged from clinical laboratories? As Greene points out, a minutely small number have gained a consensus among scientists as being medically actionable, and the CDC, so far, has identified just four that have enough evidence to possibly be used to screen asymptomatic people.

Then there’s the issue that gene therapy can be incredibly expensive, as our story by Contributing Editor Richard Mark Kirkner (page 16) points out. Here’s his lead: “A $1 million drug. Per treatment.”

Admit it, you want to read more.

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