Illumina, Mayo Clinic, LabCorp form cooperative venture to sell genetic insights to consumers

Genetic data has already proven its clinical benefits, but still has a ways to go when it comes to consumerization, as evidenced by the demise of 23andMe's saliva-based Personal Genome Test at the hands of the FDA.

But efforts to make genomics more consumer-oriented just took a step forward with the launch of Helix, formed under a collaboration of industry bigwigs, including Illumina ($ILMN), LabCorp ($LH) and the Mayo Clinic, as well as private equity player Warburg Pincus and VC Sutter Hill Ventures.

The collaborators have promised more than $100 million in funding for Helix.

Helix aims to spur consumer applications of genetic data by providing affordable sequencing and other database services for genetic samples brought via third-party partners. The company will store the genetic data in the cloud to help its partners develop and sell consumer products and applications based on the information.

Illumina CEO Jay Flatley

Consumers will be able to manage their data and search a marketplace of applications, according to a release announcing the formation of the new company, which will be led by Illumina CEO Jay Flatley, who will serve as the chairman of Helix's board.

"Genomics is reaching an inflection point in cost, volumes, and knowledge, creating a significant opportunity to unlock information that is currently not widely accessible to individuals," Flatley said in a statement. "Helix and its founding investors are committed to creating a neutral platform at the highest quality standard that will work with partners to accelerate consumer adoption of genomics."

The Mayo Clinic's Center for Individualized Medicine will make applications to educate consumers and answer their health-related questions. The nonprofit will also make a strategic investment in Helix, the release said.

Meanwhile LabCorp will leverage Helix to develop analysis and interpretation services for consumers. Other partners are expected join the venture, hopefully creating products related to things like wellness or inherited traits to enhance consumers' health using genetic data.

Illumina will provide financial information about Helix in its own financial statements. Illumina expects the venture to be dilutive to its earnings per share in 2016, indicating that Helix is more of a long-term bet than an immediate source of profits.

But that should be expected given the still nascent efforts at taking genetic Big Data directly to consumers in the form of apps and other services, a complicated business proposition that must overcome regulatory, ethical and privacy-related hurdles.

Although 23andMe yanked the Personal Genome Service from the market following a fierce FDA warning letter, it recently succeeded in getting another screening kit for consumers through the agency, albeit one that makes a much narrower claim.

The FDA in February said yes to 23andMe's test to detect carriers of the genes for Bloom syndrome. And the agency said it will exempt so-called carrier screening tests from premarket review, offering hope that the consumerization of genetic data will accelerate, perhaps to the benefit of Helix, or another provider of the needed testing equipment, services and Big Data infrastructure.

- read the release
- here's FierceMedicalDevices' take