The growth of the genetic testing industry

David Brancaccio Mar 12, 2012

David Brancaccio: To “The Graduate” — the advice was “plastics.” These days, the big money advice is “genetic testing.” UnitedHealth has a new study that predicts that Americans could be spending $25 billion a year by the end of this decade; that’s up from $10 billion in 2010. Big numbers need context.

But big numbers need context. Joining us is Harry Ostrer, director of genetic and genomic testing at Montefiore Medical Center and a professor at Albert Einstein in New York. Dr. Ostrer, good morning.

Harry Ostrer: Good morning.

Brancaccio: So what kinds of tests are we talking about here?

Ostrer: We’re talking about the whole gamut of genetic tests. So: predisposition to disease, risk of having offspring affected with particular diseases, as well as cancer genetic testing.

Brancaccio: Yeah, $25 billion is a lot of money by any measure. What’s the catalyst? This is not just gradual growth in this area.

Ostrer: No, it’s not just gradual growth in the area, but I think that the prospect of being able now to sequence whole genomes at an affordable cost is really a gamechanger. I think that over the course of the next year that we really will see $1,000-genomes. That’s quite remarkable when you compare it with the cost of the original genome, which was $3 billion.

Brancaccio: So at the individual level, the costs are plunging for this. But so many people will be doing this, so many doctors ordering this, that the costs are going to add up in the aggregate.

Ostrer: Right, so I think it’s creating a whole new market. Some of it will be replacement of existing tests — why screen for 45 conditions when you can screen for thousands of conditions by sequencing a genome? And the argument, of course, is that by preventing diseases or treating diseases early that the overall medical bill is going to be diminished.

Brancaccio: Dr. Ostrer, thank you very much for this.

Ostrer: OK, you’re welcome.

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