Ancestry to offer health tests as it steps up DNA test battle

Ancestry.com, known for its DNA tests that enable customers to explore their family trees, plans to offer genetic screening for health problems.

“We’ve seen adding this capability as a natural evolution, but only if we could do it in a way that was authentic to our core mission,” Chief Executive Officer Margo Georgiadis wrote in an email that landed in customers’ inboxes last week. “That would mean creating a solution that could enable our customers to gain meaningful insights to help them live longer, healthier lives.”

She said AncestryHealth would be available to customers soon, but she did not specify a projected date.

The company has long been expected to make a move into genetic testing for health conditions. Its biggest competitor, 23andMe, first gained Food and Drug Administration approval two years ago. In recent months, Ancestry has posted a flurry of job openings for health-related positions, including a chief medical officer.

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Ancestry has two options for entering the market—endure the lengthy and expensive process of gaining approval from the FDA for its tests, as 23andMe did, or offer screening that must be ordered by a physician, as companies such as Color do.

“Our goal is to help you and your family understand your risks so that you are empowered with the information and connections you need to make better, more informed decisions about your health,” Georgiadis wrote in her email.

Lehi, Utah-based Ancestry was founded in 1983 and rose to prominence helping people unearth details about their genealogy online. Seven years ago, the company entered the genetic-testing market.

The market for genetic tests has rapidly expanded on two main fronts—telling consumers more about their health, and telling them about their heritage.

Ancestry is the leader in tests that help consumer track down hints of their genetic roots. In November, it said it has sold more than 14 million DNA testing kits, compared to the 10 million 23andMe says it has sold.

But increasingly, DNA-testing companies are looking to health tests as their next big market. In May, another rival, MyHeritage, announced its own health test. And 23andMe has continued to add new diseases and conditions to the list of things it tests for. For 23andMe in particular, health has proved to be lucrative, this year netting the company a $300 million deal with GlaxoSmithKline.

Last year, Ancestry hired Georgiadis, a former Mattel chief executive, to lead the company. In April, Bloomberg reported that Ancestry was preparing for an initial public offering. In 2017, the last year for which the company has publicly shared results, it generated $1 billion in sales.

Bloomberg News