Eye on DNA — How will it change your life?

Analysts Say deCODE Genetics Headed for Bankruptcy Court

by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted November 13, 2008 in Business of DNA

deCODE’s problems should not be any surprise to those following Iceland’s massive financial crisis. Morningstar’s Matthew Coffina has now listed deCODE stock as one of five that “look completely worthless.”

deCODE Genetics (DCGN)

From the Analyst Report: “DeCODE Genetics engages in some provocative research projects…. However, the company has yet to gain approval from the Food and Drug Administration for any of its products, and it is currently facing a severe liquidity crisis. It appears more likely to us that deCODE might no longer be a viable entity.”

via Genealogy-DNA-L

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deCODE Genetics Sinking Low

by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted October 20, 2008 in Business of DNA

Nasdaq and taxi by victoriapeckham.deCODE Genetics is still sinking after it laid off 15% of its workforce this past March. At the time, I was told that I misread CEO Kari Stefansson’s remarks on the potentially negative future of the personal genomics marketplace but now I wonder if I was on target after all.

According to Portfolio’s David Ewing Duncan, deCODE may have its stock delisted from the Nasdaq Stock Market if it can’t “raise its market cap over the $50 million minimum by October 30.” Recent negative publicity surrounding the launch of its breast cancer genetic test couldn’t have helped either. Duncan also says that other biotech companies may suffer if they can’t find more investors or credit. Some may even choose to sell out to Big Pharma.

Sounds bad.

With the global economic slowdown that could lead to a major recession, we are being warned to downsize our lifestyle and to downsize NOW before we lose our jobs, our homes, and who knows what else. As I’ve mentioned before, personal genomics companies rely on people having disposable income to spend on non-necessities.

Times are going to get rough and not just for deCODE.

Photo credit: Victoria Peckham

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Using Disposable Income for Genetic Tests

by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted May 6, 2008 in DNA Testing

The New York Times reported this past weekend that more people are having problems obtaining affordable health insurance. On top of the budget constraints people face during a recession, even those who are covered by employer health insurance have to deal with “some combination of higher premiums, less extensive coverage, and bigger out-of-pocket deductibles and co-payments.” This means that many skip routine check-ups and avoid seeing the doctor unless absolutely necessary.

tax rebateThe majority of U.S. tax payers this year will be receiving several hundreds of dollars in tax rebates. Here’s what people plan to do with the money according to a survey by the NPD Group :

  • 42% would pay bills
  • 21% would put the money into savings
  • 12% would spend the money on discretionary items

How does this affect the potential market for genetic services? If people can’t even afford to pay for necessary maintenance medication, eye glasses, or diabetes test strips, how do personal genomics companies expect to expand their market for elective health services? And yet, direct-to-consumer genetic testing is more widely available in the U.S. than in any other country.

Where socialized medicine prevails in countries such as the UK, Singapore, and Iceland, it seems that people would have more disposable income to spend on optional healthcare. It would be interesting to see the uptake of personal genomic services in countries other than the U.S. although culture and legalities would be important factors as well. For example, are Icelanders more interested in and willing to spend money on personal genomics given that one of the more successful personal genomics companies, deCODE genetics , is based in Iceland and has published studies closely examining its citizens?

Eventually, personalized medicine incorporating genetic information will become a fact of life. At that point, genetic testing will be routinely covered by insurance as with any other laboratory test or become a hidden cost when pricing pharmaceuticals, i.e., a pharmaceutical company would cover the cost of a genetic test in order to determine type and dosage of a particular medicine. For now, however, it seems that it would be hard for most people to justify spending any of their disposable income on genetic tests or scans unless family history or other known medical conditions alert them to the need for extra information and vigilance.

How are you using your disposable income?

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SNPs on Chromosome 15 Associated with Smoking and Lung Cancer

by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted April 3, 2008 in DNA and Disease

Despite recent downsizing, deCODE Genetics has published a new study in Nature on the genetics of smoking and lung cancer. Two other studies with the same focus were also published in Nature and Nature Genetics.

All three studies identified regions on chromosome 15 that are associated with nicotine dependence, lung cancer, and peripheral artery disease. The deCODE study focused on SNP rs1051730 located on chromosome 15q24 in the CHRNA3 nicotine acetylcholine receptor. People with one copy of the “T” version of this SNP had:

  • 30% increase in risk of lung cancer
  • 20% increase in risk of peripheral artery disease

Half of people of European descent have at least one copy of the higher risk SNP and 10% may have two copies which increases their cancer risk by 80%.

  • A smoker has a 15% risk of lung cancer over his/her lifetime
  • Smokers with two copies of the T SNP variant has a 23% risk of lung cancer.
  • People who’ve smoked less than 100 cigarettes in their lifetime have a <1% risk of lung cancer.

Researchers also hypothesized that the higher risk T SNP variant may influence a person to smoke more cigarettes and become more easily dependent on nicotine. The deCODE study found that those with one copy of the T SNP variant smoked an additional cigarette per day than those without the variant. Two copies of the T SNP variant was associated an two more cigarettes per day.

fuzzybugLast month for No Smoking Day in the UK, Alicia Sparks at Mental Health Notes gave five reasons why smoking is dangerous to her mental health. Aside from the obvious negative health effects, she says smoking does not make her happy, makes her worry, gives her too much to deal with, stresses her out, and makes her feel guilty. What do you think about smoking?

NB: Bioethicist Arthur Caplan discussed the possibility of lung cancer genetic testing in the New York Times.

Such testing could carry risks all its own, bioethicist Arthur Caplan of the University of Pennsylvania warned. People who have been found to have a genetic predisposition to addiction and lung cancer could find it harder to get health or life insurance, or their employer might drop their coverage, he said.

”The good news is that getting these risk estimates will help focus anti-smoking campaigns, and some people will want to voluntarily get into anti-addiction programs early, where they will probably work better,” Caplan said in an e-mail. But if such testing is done, it should be voluntary, and the results should be kept private, he said.

Update: Dr. Ann Turner comments on these findings at GENEALOGY-DNA.

The SNP, rs1051730, has already been incorporated into reports for deCODEme customers (literally within a few minutes of the press release). It is also tested by 23andMe, but it is not on the Affymetrix 6.0 chip used by SeqWright and a new company http://geneessence.com. However, the Affy chip could have a near-by SNP that would be in linkage disequilibrium with rs1051730.

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DNA Video: Peek Inside deCODEme

by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted March 1, 2008 in DNA Podcasts and Videos, DNA Testing

deCODEme Product Tour by Jeffrey Gulcher, M.D., Ph.D., CSO of deCODE genetics.

For more, see Megan Smolenyak’s screencast.

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DNA Video: Dr. Kari Stefansson of deCODE genetics

by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted February 23, 2008 in DNA Podcasts and Videos

Kari Stefansson M.D., Ph.D, CEO of deCODE genetics talks about deCODEme.

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DNA Video: deCODEme

by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted February 16, 2008 in DNA Podcasts and Videos

deCODE genetics introduces deCODEme, a revolutionary new service that allows individuals to have their own genome scanned.

via ScienceRoll

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Crazy Genetic Marketing Ideas

by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted December 14, 2007 in DNA Fun, DNA Products, DNA Testing

Less than three weeks until the start of 2008 and everyone’s making their final marketing push. Genetic services companies are not exempt.

Boston-based dating service, ScientificMatch.com , uses a “patent-pending technology” that analyzes DNA having to do with the immune system to find a match who:

  • Smells good to you (but probably not to me)
  • Has complementary genetic material to yours so you can produce healthier children (unless you feed them McDonald’s every day and smoke around them)
  • Is so good in bed that you’ll wonder if a good sex life is in your DNA

eye dna molecule

Not to be topped by DNA-induced, euphoric love, the much maligned Genebase DNA Ancestry Project claims that Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer has joined their online networking community where you can email, post photos and messages, and join his network. You can even send an electronic postcard that shows that human HVR-1 mtDNA is 65% similar to Reindeer mtDNA. I guess Genebase thinks going goofy will somehow boost their credibility.

deCODE Genetics thought stirring the pot would keep the spotlight on them too. This past week, they put out the word that Dr. James Watson has 16 times the number of African-origin gene than the average white European (see this post for background about Dr. James Watson’s comments about race and intelligence). John Hawks said it best :

I mean, what is the purpose really of spreading a news story that Watson may be 1/16 African, without adding the context of how common this degree of genetic mixture has been in American history in particular, and between populations generally? Why would a geneticist working with humans not realize the ethical problem?

Personally, I’m pretty worn out after the excitement of the past few weeks and months. Great advances have been made in the field of personal genomics but we’re still taking things step-by-step. What may seem to have happened overnight is actually the culmination of years of hard work. And as 2007 draws to a close, we have more years of hard work ahead of us.

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Eye on DNA Headlines for 12 October 2007

by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted October 12, 2007 in DNA Testing, Eye on DNA Headlines

  • shelley battsPlease vote for Shelley Batts of Retrospectacle for this year’s Student Blogging Scholarship! She’s currently in second place but with your help, a science blogger can kick butt and take it all! She writes:

    …I could really use the money towards my PhD (my thesis is related to a cure for deafness) and paying off my undergrad debt.

    I’d say that’s a pretty good use of scholarship money.

  • DNA relationship tests have solved a baby mix-up case in the Czech Republic. The parents of Veronika looked nothing like her but only until she was 10 months old did they decide to undergo DNA testing.

    [The father] became suspicious after jibes from his friends pointing out that he and his partner were dark-haired and brown-eyed but had a blonde-haired, blue-eyed baby. He secretly had a DNA test, which showed he was not the father. When Jaroslava [the mother]insisted he must be she too had a DNA test, which revealed the child was not theirs.

    As it turns out, Veronika had been swapped 18 minutes after birth with another little girl. Her biological parents live only 30 miles away with the daughter of her adoptive parents. The families plan to return their daughters to each other by Christmas. A very bittersweet story.

  • Finally, my people have been recognized. Chinese scientists in Shenzhen claim to have completed the first map of the Chinese genome. I hate to be a pain but with all the hoohah over Chinese counterfeit goods, I’ll take this pronouncement with a grain of salt.
  • deCODE genetics has launched a genetic test for risk of myocardial infarction – deCODE MI which is available only through physicians. This new test joins the deCODE T2 test for type 2 diabetes (offered direct to consumers through my company, DNA Direct) and the deCODE AF test for atrial fibrillation (also available only with physician authorization as far as I can tell). It also looks like they’ve revamped their website complete with a video. Check it out and tell me if you’re as confused by the site as I am….
  • The Guardian is reporting that a genetic test for osteoarthritis may be available for less than £10 (~$20) within a few years after the completion of a two-year genomewide study.

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(>> Start a discussion!)


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Eye on DNA Headlines for 31 August 2007

by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted August 31, 2007 in DNA and Disease, Eye on DNA Headlines

  • On September 5, 4:25 pm EDT, deCODE genetics will have a live webcast of CEO Kari Stefansson’s presentation at the Thomas Weisel Partners Annual Healthcare Conference. Details on the deCODE genetics investors page.
  • Check it out! Eye on DNA is listed in the sidebar of the CDC Genomics & Health Weekly Update. Woohoo! Strange. They replaced the link to Eye on DNA just a few hours ago with something from Duke. Does anyone know what happened? I’ll have to email to ask. Update: What a relief! I didn’t get dissed after all. They had to do some reshuffling and Eye on DNA will be up next week. Yay!
  • Thank you, Dr. Bill Koslosky, for mentioning Eye on DNA at Lexicillin QD.
  • Dr. Misha Angrist at Genome Boy has become the 23rd member of The DNA Network! (Subscribe to The DNA Network RSS feed.)
  • thai no smokingAt Smokefree.gov, one of the pieces of trivia to convince you to quit smoking is:

    Did you know?…that the increased risk for developing prostate cancer as a smoker disappears over time once you quit?

    Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for lung cancer. A recent study of eight current smokers, 12 former smokers, and four never-smokers found that smoking permanently damages DNA repair genes as well as changing the activity of some genes. These changes in gene expression could account for the higher risk of lung cancer in people who’ve already quit smoking. (MedPage Today)

    Update: Walter at Highlight Health has more on what happens when you quit smoking.

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