You’ve made the leap. You’re going to create a consumer genetic product. You’ve carefully considered your launch strategy and you’re about to take the soon-to-be $2.5 billion consumer genomics industry (Global Market Insights) by storm. You know your target market, and you have your product concept. Now it’s time to define exactly what you’re going to include on your genetic panel. What genes? Which specific variants? You know, all the A’s, T’s, C’s and G’s.
“That’s for my science team to decide!” you say, as you proudly look to the stellar team of scientific curators, bioinformaticians and genetic counselors that you’ve brought on board. Well, yes and no.
Your science team will indeed be defining scientific standards and best practices for your company, and delineating the genes and variants that will be included in your product. But they will ultimately need to act on the vision that you and your product team set for your product. By keeping these four cornerstones of smart panel design at the forefront of your decision making, you will ensure you are setting your consumer genetic product up for success.
Your customers will want to be assured that your genetic product is based upon science that is sound. Usually this means that your panel will be created based on the results of peer-reviewed research publications, typically genome-wide association studies or large case-control or cohort studies. Alternatively, you may have performed your own research or licensed another group’s unpublished data. In any case, you’ll want the DNA variants on your panel to be meaningfully associated with the outcomes or traits that your product pertains to. For example, if your product is designed to inform consumers about how their DNA impacts their propensity to be a morning person rather than a night person, you’ll need data that shows that one or more DNA variants are more common in people who are “morning larks” rather than “night owls.” How much data? Well, that depends on the criteria that you and your science team set. Some questions that you may want your criteria to address:
- Was the research conducted in a reputable lab and published in a peer-reviewed journal?
- What was the statistical significance of the finding?
- How large was the study? In genetics, more is better: the larger the population size, the more impactful the results.
- Have the findings been replicated in other populations by other groups?
- Has the study been replicated in multi-ethnic populations?
How will you be presenting results to your customers? Will they be receiving a detailed report of their DNA results, or are the genetic results a small part of a larger product that includes other data such as biomarkers, questionnaire results or wearable tracking data? Will you report on one DNA variant per trait or will you provide results to consumers based on complex models that incorporate many DNA variants per trait? Perhaps you haven’t yet thought through all aspects of the consumer results experience, but this is an important factor in panel design.
Let’s go back to our morning lark versus night owl example. If there are just a handful of variants strongly associated with the chronotype (a person’s innate biological sleep rhythm), then your product may require only a small panel. But if there are hundreds of variants associated with the chronotype, and you want to provide your customers a result that combines the effects of all of these variants together (often referred to as a polygenic risk score), then your panel can grow quite large. Similarly, providing DNA results that interplay with biomarker or lifestyle data may require the addition of more DNA variants to your panel. Your panel size, in turn, will influence the type of DNA analysis platform you choose. With a large genotyping array, the cost of adding additional variants to your panel is generally negligible.
For a clear, comprehensible consumer experience, less can be more. So perhaps you’ll want to limit your results to reporting on a small number of DNA variants for your first product release. But there is no reason you cannot generate additional genetic data for R&D purposes, as long as you obtain appropriate consent from your customers and they understand how this data is being used. When designing your panel, think about the variants that you want to be part of your current product, as well as those that are interesting for future product research.
As a founder, you’re already thinking about that next round of funding, when you’ll need to demonstrate to investors that your customer lifetime value (CLTV) is worth the cost of acquiring new customers. How to maximize your CLTV with a consumer genetics product? The answer is continuous consumer engagement. In a world with mobile apps and push notifications, smart watches and big data, and ever-evolving genetics research, a single, static DNA results report is just not going to cut it! NOW is the time to start thinking about how you will provide a continuously engaging customer experience. Perhaps your product will be a subscription model in which your customers can subscribe to receive new insights from their DNA data on a monthly or quarterly basis. Perhaps you will deliver these additional insights for free, and the insights will target your customers to other products you are offering. Perhaps your product is a research platform and you will engage your customers with regular questionnaires; their reward for answering them is early access to your research discoveries.
What does all this mean for panel design? Simply put, you will want a panel that can support product enhancements. While your initial product may incorporate just a handful of DNA variants, giving your customers the ability to unlock additional insights over time will necessitate you generating additional DNA variants. You might incorporate these supplementary variants into your initial panel, and plan to release results for them in a staggered fashion. Or, if your lab offers full sequencing or uses a large genotyping array, you can increase the data that the lab provides to you over time. This is something you’ll want to consider in selecting your ideal laboratory partner.
While all your efforts may be focused on that first product roll-out, truly smart panel design will consider variants that you want to report on now, as well as those that you are interested in for future product iterations. Back to our chronotype example: after a successful release of your morning lark/night owl product, you may want to add additional products that look at other sleep-related traits. So perhaps your panel should incorporate not only chronotype variants, but those associated with sleep duration, sleep quality and insomnia as well. You might even want to go beyond sleep traits into other lifestyle traits such as diet or fitness. With good planning and forethought, you can roll out a whole line of different products that rely on ONE smartly designed panel. Pre-designed panels built for specific applications, such as pharmacogenomics, ancestry or common GWAS variants, can make it easy to seamlessly expand your product offerings without having to develop new panels from scratch.
Panel design: it’s not only for your science team! And by focusing on these four cornerstones — smart science, user experience, consumer engagement and product pipeline — you’re not only being smart about your panel design, you’re being smart about your product as a whole.