Ancestry CEO Margo Georgiadis on launch of Health DNA tests – Business Insider

  • Genealogy giant Ancestry is getting into the business of healthcare.  
  • On Tuesday, the company announced two health products: AncestryHealth Core and AncestryHealth Plus, which can help users of the company’s DNA test get a sense of their family health history.
  • The company has long avoided healthcare, even as personal-genetics companies like 23andMe have made it a key part of their businesses.
  • AncestryHealth Core will cost $149 — or $49 if users have already taken an Ancestry test — while Plus will cost $199, and additional quarterly updates after the first six months will cost $49 every six months.
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Ancestry, the family-history website, is preparing for a big move into healthcare, an area the 36-year-old firm has largely avoided.

The company is planning to start selling two new products: AncestryHealth Core and AncestryHealth Plus. Both products will provide information like carrier status for genetic conditions, cancer risk and wellness reports and can help users get a sense of their family health history as well as ancestry. Unlike tests from rivals like 23andMe, Ancestry will require a doctor to be involved in ordering the tests and interpreting the results.

Ancestry’s DNA test, designed to map out your genetic roots going back generations, has been growing quickly since launching in 2012. In 2015 the company hit 1 million people tested, and in May 2019 it said it had run tests for more than 15 million people. Until now, those users haven’t received reports on health information.

“We didn’t want to be just another company issuing lab reports,” Ancestry CEO Margo Georgiadis told Business Insider. Georgiadis said there were several key considerations that fell into place that convinced her it was time to jump in: the science and the consumer had to be ready, and the tests needed to be affordable to run. 

Healthcare is just the latest evolution for Ancestry, which was founded in 1983 to publish magazines about family history. The company later built family-tree software and launched Ancestry.com in 1996. It has focused largely on family histories and family-tree products, as well as on detailing migration patterns.

While 23andMe paved the way for health-focused consumer genetics tests, other firms have struggled to figure out a business model that works. The DNA-testing startup Helix cut its workforce in May as it moved more into working with health systems and health plans rather than going directly to consumers.

Color, a consumer genetics company that provides a physician-ordered test, has been partnering with health systems and life sciences companies like Verily to provide genetic screenings. 


Hollis Johnson/Business Insider


Why Ancestry’s working with doctors

Georgiadis, who joined Ancestry in 2018 after a brief stint running the toymaker Mattel, said the company had avoided health because there wasn’t much it could provide that would spur users to act on their health information.

“For a long time, I think the company was very focused on how do we make sure that anything that we’re doing is truly actionable for consumers,” Georgiadis told Business Insider in an August interview.

She said that right now, consumer genetic health testing is report-driven. Once a person gets the report, it’s often unclear what to do with the information.

“The reality is while people find lab reports interesting, it’s not helping them get to action and that’s really what they crave,” Georgiadis said in an October interview. “They crave actual insights where they can take steps with their healthcare providers to live longer and healthier lives.”

To see where Ancestry could be different, Georgiadis hosted a barbecue in the backyard of her Palo Alto home early on in her tenure as CEO, inviting doctors from various medical specialties. The doctors filled her in about the concerns they had about consumer genetics tests and told her what they’d like to see instead. 

Read more: Genetic testing is the future of healthcare, but many experts say companies like 23andMe are doing more harm than good

By the end of it, Georgiadis came back to her team with a three-page summary of what Ancestry would have to do. That included making sure Ancestry gave back reports that doctors could do something with. For instance, Ancestry will test for hereditary cancers in which the doctor could take a preventive step, but won’t report on a predisposition for a condition like Alzheimer’s where there’s not as much a doctor can do for that individual.

It also meant AncestryHealth would have to provide a clinical-grade test that could be used by doctors. 

“This is going to be the hardest thing we’ve ever done,” Georgiadis recalls telling the team. 

Here’s what Ancestry’s health reports will look like.
Courtesy Ancestry


What’s included in an AncestryHealth test

To order an AncestryHealth test, Ancestry will link consumers up with a doctor via the company PWNHealth. Next, the user will fill in information about their family health history that users can bring to their doctor. After getting the results, they’re presented one at a time, incorporating the family health history into the conversation about risk.

From there, users can choose to better understand the results via videos, text, interactive webinars, or directly talking to a genetic counselor. The report can be printed out and taken to a doctor.

It’s a different route than rival 23andMe has taken. 23andMe’s health reports are available directly to consumers once they’re cleared by the Food and Drug Administration

Ancestry plans to offer two health products: 

  • AncestryHealth Core, which will provide health reports about carrier status for rare conditions parents could pass on to kids, like cystic fibrosis, inherited cancers, and heart disease. It’ll also provide wellness information about nutrition and metabolism. Georgiadis characterized it as reports that doctors consider the most actionable. AncestryHealth Core will cost $149, or $49 if users have already taken an Ancestry test. 
  • AncestryHealth Plus will offer more reports and the plan is to add additional info over time as the science advances. The test will be run on next-generation sequencing technology rather than the genotyping technology Core and the standard AncestryDNA test is run on. Unlike genotyping, which looks for specific parts of DNA and pieces them together, next-generation sequencing looks at only the protein-encoding parts of your genome, called the exome. The next-generation sequencing analyzes roughly 2% of those 3 billion base pairs. The test will cost $199, which includes six months of quarterly updates and additional educational resources. After that, it’s $49 every six months for the quarterly updates, or $100 a year. 

Users who have already submitted their spit to Ancestry before don’t have to submit a new samples. The products will take about 6-8 weeks to report after ordering, even for those who have already taken the Ancestry test. The company said it plans to have the Plus program available widely in 2020. To perform the next-generation sequencing test, Ancestry’s partnering with lab-testing firm Quest Diagnostics

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