UBiome taps Apple ecosystem to broaden microbiome data-gathering drive

UBiome has become the first for-profit organization to roll out an app for Apple ($AAPL) ResearchKit, the tech giant's open-source study platform. The program is combining a ResearchKit-enabled app with uBiome's microbiome test to generate data that may one day support biopharma R&D. 

Once downloaded, the app allows users to enter details about their health history, fill in a consent form and order uBiome's microbiome testing kit. The app-enabled research project is initially looking at weight--a topic CEO Jessica Richman told Popular Science was selected because it affects almost everyone--but the plan is to broaden the scope in the future. UBiome is making the test kit available for free to the first 1,000 people who sign up. After that, anyone who buys a kit through the app will get 50% off the $89 sticker price.

The gut bacteria sequencing kits were available previously--uBiome got its start with a crowdfunding campaign in 2012--but tapping into the massive data-gathering potential of Apple's ecosystem could enable the company to step up its ambitions. The success of the project depends on uBiome's ability to persuade people it is worth paying for a glimpse at their microbiome. The first wave of ResearchKit-based studies have reported massive enrollment numbers but, notably, participation in all of these trials is free and the organization at the helm is an academic center.    

UBiome stands to profit when kits are sold and, potentially, when third parties tap into its growing repository of microbiome and health data. "We have a lot of talks with pharmaceutical companies," Richman told BuzzFeed News. As it stands, none of these talks have matured into collaborations, but Richman is open to this happening in the future. "I think it's valuable to do and something we look forward to doing. This is something good for consumers--us and them--to pay for something that helps make valuable new products, but it's not something we're doing right now," she said.

- read Popular Science's piece
- and BuzzFeed's take

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story failed to mention the 50% discount users of the app qualify for. We regret the error.