Considering Direct-to-Consumer Genetic Testing? Spit with Caution

By Gali Katznelson

A friend and I had been vaguely entertaining the idea of ordering genetic testing kits for some time. Then, Black Friday happened. My friend called me to share that 23andMe was on sale, 50% off, for 1 more hour! Typing our credit card information into Amazon, we tossed around some half-reasoned arguments in favor of our impulsive purchases: “this’ll be a fun science experiment”, “what if we catch something preventable in time to make lifestyle changes?” and, “we really should be contributing our data to research for the public good.” Within minutes, two kits were ordered and thanks to the magic powers of Amazon Prime, these boxes appeared on our doorsteps within days. Few things in life are as exciting as receiving a mail delivery, but as we unwrapped our packages, finding the words “Welcome to You” plastered on our shiny white Pandora’s boxes, somehow our excitement began to dwindle. One month later, our boxes remain unopened.

Genetic testing is clearly something we should have given more thought before the marketing geniuses got the best of us. Here are some questions anyone considering taking a direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic test should answer (ideally before buying the test):

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The FDA Strikes Again: Its ban on home testing kits is, as usual, likely to do more harm than good

Cross-post from PointOfLaw.

Richard A. Epstein is a professor of law at NYU Law School, a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, a Senior Lecturer at the University of Chicago and a visiting scholar with the Manhattan Institute’s Center for Legal Policy. His forthcoming book is “The Classical Liberal Constitution,” from Harvard University Press.

On November 22, 2013, the Food and Drug Administration flexed its regulatory muscle by sending a warning letter to a genetic-testing company that goes under the stylish name of 23andme. The object of FDA scorn was a diagnostic kit that the tech company, backed by among others Google and Johnson & Johnson, sold to customers for $99. The kit contained an all-purpose saliva-based test that could give customers information about some 240 genetic traits, which relate to a wide range of genetic traits and disease conditions. The FDA warning letter chastised 23andme in no uncertain terms for being noncooperative and nonresponsive over a five-year period in supplying information that the FDA wanted to evaluate its product as a Type III device under the Medical Devices Act.

Legal Regulation of 23andme

There is no doubt that the FDA is on solid legal ground. This case is not like the processes involved in Regenerative Sciences, LLC v. United States, where the FDA asserted that physicians’ use of certain stem-cell procedures for joint disease involved the use of a drug that required FDA approval before it could be approved for use. In an earlier essay for the Manhattan Institute, I argued that this classification was in fact both legally incorrect and socially mischievous. In this case, the legal arguments are not available to 23andme because the current definition of “medical devices” covers not only those devices intended for use on the human body, but also those used for the diagnosis of disease. The Type III classification means that this device has to receive premarket approval from the FDA, which in turn requires that it be shown to be safe and effective for its intended use. Getting approval under this standard is arduous business, because any such approval must be for each of the tests separately. 240 tests thus require that number of approvals. The costs are prohibitive, and the delay enormous.

The FDA Warning Letter is significant both for what it says and for what it does not say. Continue reading

Dov Fox on the question of “designer babies”

Bill of Health blogger Dov Fox was quoted in the recent article “Genetic-testing patent raises concerns about ‘designer babies’.”

“‘Some people might say this is in some respects similar to dating websites to the extent you look for traits in somebody you want to have children with,’ said Dov Fox, a law professor at the University of San Diego. But the important question, he said, is whether the accuracy from the genetic testing, albeit imperfect, makes 23andMe’s service more troubling.”

View the full article here.