In 2013, the Denmark-headquartered healthcare group created its genetics testing arm DNA Life – a specialised unit for health, nutrition and fitness potential that works exclusively and directly with trained healthcare practitioners. In November last year, Nordic extended its genetics testing capabilities with the acquisition of two-year-old Danish startup AthGene for an undisclosed sum and integrated it into its portfolio alongside DNA Life.
Chris Moore, MD of Nordic Group, said the acquisition was“sensible and strategic” because of AthGene's IT “technology engine” that enables results to be updated on an ongoing basis and display via an intuitive user interface or 'dashboard'.
“It fitted into the portfolio of things we needed. It was exciting because of that technological development they've done. It will help our business transfer some of the old-school lab proposition into a much more modern, dynamic environment,” Moore told NutraIngredients.
Importantly, with this technology test results can be “continually enhanced”, he said, according to new science or testing capabilities.
Direct-to-consumer – 'the fundamental mistake of the whole industry'
Within this technology, Moore said AthGene also brings a direct-to-consumer platform – something Nordic will maintain for now but will adjust in the near-term to involve intermediaries like dieticians, nutritionists or lifestyle coaches. The company has already, for example, added a 20-minute professional online consultation for every AthGene test purchase.
“AthGene burst onto the Danish scene as this revolutionary company that's going to change the world and the way that everyone is going to view genetics. They got massive media attention, lots of enthusiasm, good investment and away they went. But they made, in my opinion, the fundamental mistake of believing the consumer knew what they wanted and that they would, in turn, naturally want to know their genetics to know who they are,” he said.
“I think this is a fundamental mistake of the whole industry. The consumer probably does want to know but they want to be secure in the knowledge and they want it to be understandable in a way they can apply it.”
Currently, Moore said it is “simply not reasonable” to expect regular consumers to be able to engage and understand nutrigenomics test results. The vast majority of consumers who pay for genetic testing, like AthGene and 23andMe, he said, have not done anything with their results.
“We are just lauding something that isn't really in traction. ...I honestly don't believe that, at the minute, the market can't sustain a direct-to-consumer environment.
“...I'm not saying the market won't change; I'm not saying the market won't get to a stage of wanting data, it's just, in my opinion, premature,” he said.
Moore said hereditary genetics can be considered interesting and fun but linking genetics to clinical expression, looking at things like the risk of Alzheimer's, cardiac or hormonal problems, for example, needs to be carefully qualified.
“We're on the verge within nutrigenomics but it's not diagnostic; it's absolutely not diagnostic within this nutrigenomics area. Other genetic tests are but not in nutrigenomics. The data is beginning to be put together where we understand expression has an impact on potential outcome (…) We're beginning to stitch this together and in a clinical environment we can do it sensibly.”
But, he said even in the nutrigenomics world there is a lot of information linked to casual relationships between expression and clinical impact - “we have to be very, very cautious about the over-interpretation and exaggerated importance of any one expression”.
This is why Nordic will continue to refine its nutrigenomics testing, he said, seeking out the best single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) to test. Nordic has already started using some SNPs that AthGene identified for specific analysis, Moore said, but it has also done lots of fine-tuning.
“This is not a fad, it's not something that's going to go away: genetics is here to stay. The technology is going to get better and so everything around it should be done with integrity,” he said.
“...Industry has an absolute responsibility to communicate clearly, propagate and promote the science, criticize where needed and put our hands up about changes to information as new science becomes available. One of the great things about the AthGene technology is that it allows us to do this.”