Pathway Genomics is Expected to Sell Genetic Testing Kits Through Walgreens Stores
Genetic tests that assess a person’s risk of getting various diseases are heading to the corner drug store.
Pathway Genomics, a start-up company, is expected to announce on Tuesday that it will sell such a test through most of the nation’s 7,500 Walgreens stores.
The tests sold by Pathway, and others by its competitors, look at specific variations in a person’s DNA to derive information about their risk of getting diseases like diabetes, heart disease and various forms of cancer. Such tests have until now been sold directly to consumers through the Internet or through doctors’ offices.
By capitalizing on the foot traffic in drug stores, Pathway hopes to gain an edge on rivals 23andMe and Navigenics, which are older and better known.
“It’s more consumer awareness than we could get from advertising online,” said Jim Woodman, vice president for corporate strategy at Pathway, which is based in San Diego and is privately held.
The personal genomics companies appear to have garnered fewer than 100,000 customers combined since starting nearly three years ago. Pathway, which started last summer, will not say how many customers it has.
The tests, which generally cost $300 or more, have also stirred controversy. Some genetics experts say the tests cannot provide accurate or significant information because not enough is known yet about the genetic causes of disease. Some critics say doctors should be involved in interpreting the tests.
New York State considers these medical tests, not consumer information, and requires a license. Pathway does not yet have one, so its test will not be carried by Walgreens in New York.
Mr. Woodman of Pathway said he did not expect the move into drug stores to stir more criticism.
What Walgreens will be selling, for a price expected to be $20 to $30, is Pathway’s saliva collection kit, packaged in a box that says “Discover Your DNA.” But the testing of the saliva will cost extra — from $79 to as much as $249, depending on how full a set of tests the consumer orders.
Consumers would send their saliva sample, which contains their DNA, to the company’s lab. But they would still have to go to Pathway’s Web site to order the specific test they want and pay an additional fee. They would also receive the results via the Web.
Even at $249 for the full test, in addition to the $20 to $30 for the kit, Pathway’s test through Walgreens will be cheaper than the $399 the company charges if the same test is ordered completely online, in which case Pathway sends the consumer a saliva kit that must be mailed back.
Jim Cohn, a spokesman for Walgreens, said the chain decided to carry the test because “we recognize that genetic reports are for some becoming a more important component in managing one’s health care.”
Drug stores already carry a variety of diagnostic tests, like those for pregnancy, cholesterol and blood sugar. When some of these tests were introduced, there was controversy about whether consumers could test themselves.
Although broader in scope, Pathway’s test is not the first DNA-based analysis to be sold in drug stores. Sorenson Genomics began selling a paternity test through Rite Aid stores in late 2007. Sorenson has sold more than 100,000 tests through Rite Aid and other major pharmacy chains since then, according to Jacob Moon, a spokesman for the company.