News breaking today that 23andMe will take its trove of genetic data into pharmaceuticals presents both opportunity and a road map for the supplement industry.
And perhaps a bit of caution.
Though ordered by the FDA in 2013 to step back from offering information that could be interpreted as a diagnosis, the Google-backed company continued to amass genetic profiles on customers looking to trace their ancestry. That big data stack, a reported 750,000+ profiles, has always been seen as the gold mine of 23andMe, representing an unprecedented amount of data that can be used to design treatments, drugs and possibly supplement formulations based on individual genetics. In that regard, Thursday’s news came as no surprise to anyone watching the personalized medicine movement.
When the kind of investment required to develop pharmaceuticals comes into a space, that space moves from one of future prospects into prospects that are happening right now. The signal for the supplement industry could be that personalized medicine is now a science in the mainstream where a mainstream approach may be ideal.
The industry has long presented itself as an alternative to big pharma but in this case, the legitimacy of pharmaceuticals in the public mind could help the supplements industry offer a more robust science-backed value proposition. Supplement usage has long been too faith-based for too many consumers. That represents a vulnerable sales model for an industry beset by questions of efficacy, and science of personalized medicine could change that.
We have talked about a future of “genetic counselors” able to advise patients about how their individual body processes nutrients and how those nutrients affect gene expression. The words “genetic counselor” could still sound fringe to many, but the connection to the pharmaceutical industry likely provides a credibility the supplement industry might not be able to find on its own.
At least in this moment, the industry may do well not to question the role of pharmaceuticals in personalized medicine.