Prenetics: Genetics and personalisation are converging – it won't be long until nutrigenomics is mainstream

By Kacey Culliney

- Last updated on GMT

Credit: Prenetics
Credit: Prenetics
Scientific investment and consumer engagement is key to staying ahead in nutrigenomics and it's a space becoming primed for mainstream, says the CEO of Prenetics International – owner of DNAFit.

Three months ago, Hong Kong-based genetic testing firm Prenetics acquired DNAFit, forming Prenetics International to expand global reach and shift into direct-to-consumer territory. Previously, Prenetics just worked with physicians and business owners who provided genetic testing to patients and customers.

Armed with $50m in recently raised funds, the company will soon launch a blood testing 'snap shot' product and customized vitamins and supplements to accompany its genetic testing proposition.

Avi Lasarow, founder of DNAFit and now CEO of Prenetics International, said the potential for personalised diet and health through genetics is huge and certainly on its way towards mass market appeal.

“It's our belief that this whole area is going to really grow rapidly,”​ Lasarow told NutraIngredients.

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“Around genetics; around nutrigenomics or fitness, ultimately nobody is the same and the average advice should not apply to us as individuals. That's the very simple way of looking at it. While we're still very early in this journey of genetic research, it's converging at a point where consumers are thinking 'personalisation' in all aspects of fitness, and nutrition will become the way forward. There's no doubt about it​.”

In the next five years, he said everyone will have a better understanding on what they're built from and have insight on response to food, exercise and medicine.

Leaping off ancestry, breaking down barriers

Lasarow said for nutrigenomics to truly reach mass market potential, it will likely leap off ancestry's success.

“If you look at the pace of companies like 23andMe and Ancestry are acquiring customers, eventually we're all going to get a DNA test done and it's going to stay with a handful of providers. So, what's going to happen is it will become easier for consumers to go for other interpretations of their genetics.”

The market for genetic testing, he said, can currently be broken down into: early adopters and tech consumers; lifestyle consumers; and mass market.

“Nutrigenomics is definitely within the early adopters or what's called the 'tech consumer area' and that's exciting because it means there's still a lot of opportunity to move into mass market. And that's going to take time but it will happen​.”

To get there, Lasarow said three tiers“need to be broken down”​: lack of trust, building a sense of self-efficacy and belief amongst consumers, and improving benefit perception.

“One of our core philosophies is never to oversell the science and always be clear about the limitations of the science,” ​he said, and conversation and communication helps. It's also important to show continuous commitment to data protection and scientific developments.

Price will be a “key driver”​ to driving this scientific aspect forward, he said, because around 15 years ago, full genome sequencing cost around $40,000 but can now be done for less than $1,000. This means research will be accelerated and efficacy improved and for consumers, tests will become increasingly affordable.

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Assisting consumers on the nutrigenomics 'journey'

Lasarow said it is also important to acknowledge genetic testing is only part of a bigger picture. Prenetics has a team of dieticians, nutritionists and health coaches that consumers can choose to work with when taking a DNAFit test, choosing an expert to help with achieving specific goals like weight loss, endurance training or general lifestyle improvement based on results.

Prenetics currently has the capacity to provide around 200 consults per week but is now working on an artificial intelligence (AI) concept that, in the future, could provide automated feedback on genetic test results, he said. “We never want to replace a dietician or trainer, we just want to provide the right tools. The whole business is driven from a consumer-centric perspective​.”

'Patient Activation'

'Patient Activation' is a term that has gained credence among clinicians, academics and think-tanks. It describes the knowledge, skills and confidence a person has in managing their own health care. The concept links to all the principles of person-centred care. The 'Patient Activation Measurement' or PAM is a validated, commercially licensed tool that has been extensively tested. It helps to measure the spectrum of skills, knowledge and confidence in patients and captures the extent to which people feel engaged and confident in taking care of their condition.

The company also has an online tool that consumers can use to plan meals and purchase food and drink products according to their results and personal requirements.

“It's not just about a DNA test. Companies like us have a responsibility to make sure consumers understand their results​. One of the things we're working on is the Patient Activation Measurement (PAM) – it's a methodology supported by the NHS. Our goal is to not just help our customers in the consumer segment but actually increase the Patient Activation Measurement – that way we can measure success.”

Asked how Prenetics is going to stay competitive as nutrigenomics advances and more companies compete for consumers, Lasarow said: “I think, right now, it's about speed to market (…) It's about continued research, innovating; clearly research produces some great findings and it's about how we can use these findings.”

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