The market for noninvasive prenatal tests could triple by 2019, analysts say

The market for noninvasive prenatal testing is gaining momentum, analysts say, and a new report from market researchers shows that the demand for such tests is set to triple over the next 6 years, potentially becoming a $3.6 billion industry by 2019.

Traditional prenatal diagnostics come with a host of risks that companies like Sequenom ($SQNM), Natera and Illumina's ($ILMN) Verinata Health have sought to eliminate with their alternative screening methods. These alternatives could pay off big time down the road, as a new report from Transparency Market Research has predicted about 38% growth per year.

Market leader Sequenom in particular could use some good news. The company faced defeat in October in a long-running patent fight with Ariosa Diagnostics for the detection of fetal cell-free DNA in the bloodstream of pregnant women. Just last month, though, Sequenom licensed one of its tests to French company Laboratoire Cerba, which will market the diagnostic around the world.

But Sequenom is likely to lose some of its market share in years to come, the analysts say, as Verinata's Verifi and Natera's Panorama tests become more prominent in the arena.

It's no surprise that noninvasive techniques are more tolerable than conventional methods such as maternal screening, nuchal translucency scans, amniocentesis and chorionic villus sampling, the analysts note, which can pose safety risks such as miscarriage and may not be as accurate. Noninvasive methods can detect chromosomal abnormalities in fetuses as early as 9 to 10 weeks into a pregnancy.

But the boom is not without its ethical quandaries, as some groups believe the rise in noninvasive tests could bring about an increase in the abortion rate. As a result, professionals have drawn guidelines limiting the use of the tests to pregnant women at high risk of abnormal chromosomal mutation.

- here's the release

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