As next-generation technologies continue to drive down costs for DNA sequencing, DNA tests have become more accessible to the masses. Illumina spinout Helix, which runs an online marketplace for such tests, has held the first close of a planned $200 million funding round.
The round was led by new investor DFJ Growth, and all of Helix’s founding investors participated, including Illumina, Kleiner Perkins Caufield Beyers, Mayo Clinic, Sutter Hill Ventures and Warburg Pincus.
Since the debut of the “app store” last July, 35 DNA-powered products from 20 companies have signed on, and Helix plans to grow that number to over 50 products this year with major launches from the like of Mayo Clinic.
Helix’s platform works in a different way than other personal genetics-testing companies. When someone orders a product from the store, Helix sequences all known 22,000 protein-encoding genes as well as “additional information-rich areas," which the company said can unlock up to 100 times more data than typical at-home DNA tests on the market. It then stores the data securely and only shares the relevant portions with the test seller. It allows customers to order other products without having to run DNA samples again.
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Helix's products now range from the more serious, National Geographic’s Geno 2.0 helps customers understand their ancestry, to the more fun, using your DNA code to design a one-of-a-kind knitted scarf.
CEO Robin Thurston told Forbes that more than 20% of customers who buy one product actually come back for a second.
The series B financing announcement came just days before the FDA’s landmark decision that made 23andMe the first to provide direct-to-consumer genetic test for cancer risk. According to Illumina Executive Chairman Jay Flatley, about 12 million people have purchased a consumer genomics service to date.
“The genomics revolution has begun and Helix is democratizing access to DNA for developers while giving consumers a safe and secure way to manage their own genomic data. We believe the Helix business model will stimulate an explosion of innovation in personal genomics products allowing people to take an active role in managing their health and well-being,” said Barry Schuler, partner at DFJ Growth, in a statement.
Helix’s ambition goes beyond helping individuals understand his or her own genomics data, but also lies in the collective power of such data. Earlier this year, it started a partnership with the Renown Institute for Health Innovation and the Desert Research Institute on a population health project in Nevada. All samples are processed in Helix’s CLIA- and CAP-compliant sequencing lab, and volunteers have the opportunity to receive a product through the Helix marketplace.