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Walgreens to sell personal gene tests

The entrance to a Walgreens store is seen in Homestead, Fla.

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: We spend billions of dollars every year on medical tests on the reasonable theory that the more we know, and the earlier we know it, the better off we're going to be. This week Walgreens is trying to get some more of that money to come its way. This Friday, the drugstore chain will start selling genetic testing kits.

Marketplace's Eve Troeh points out that in this case, a little knowledge may be a dangerous thing.


EVE TROEH: Walgreens will sell the Insight Saliva Collection Kit for $20-30. It contains: a plastic tube that you spit in, and a box to send the sample to Pathway Genomics in San Diego.

MICHAEL NOVA: The laboratory grinds through the saliva and then puts a report together and then sends that back to the consumer.

Michael Nova is chief medical officer at Pathway. He says that report costs about $80 to $250, depending on what you want to know. You can find how prone you might be to health conditions like diabetes or arthritis. Whether you carry the gene for cystic fibrosis or Tay Sachs disease. Or how you might react to certain drugs that treat breast cancer or prevent blood clots.

These types of tests have been around a few years from several companies. But they were only available online. Walgreens will carry the Pathway test in 6,000 stores.

Edward Abrahams is president of the Personalized Medicine Coalition. He says the drug store chain will push genetic tests from a niche market to the mass market. Then it's up to consumers.

EDWARD Abrahams: Whether the tests live up to what they claim to do, and whether or not there is a market for them. Both of those things are yet to be demonstrated.

The Food and Drug Administration is looking into whether it should regulate over-the-counter genetic tests. It doesn't think a small amount of DNA information should hold too much sway over people's medical decisions.

I'm Eve Troeh for Marketplace.

About the author

Eve Troeh is News Director at WWNO-FM in New Orleans, La., helping build the first public radio news department in the station’s 40-year history. She reported for the Marketplace Sustainability Desk from 2010 to 2013.
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