Genomics companies provide genetic testing, DNA profiling, and innovative gene therapies. They are also on the front lines in the search for a cure to cancer, diabetes, and other conditions.
In addition, genomics companies are making it possible to feed the world’s ever-expanding human population by developing hardier, more nutrient-rich foods while at the same time increasing crop yields.
Concepts that were little more than quaint aspirations 40 years ago are now a reality thanks to the leading-edge work of genomics companies. Below are the best genomics companies of 2020.
1. Oxford Nanopore
Oxford Nanopore Technologies Ltd has developed some of the most effective platforms in existence for the analysis of plant and animal life, regardless of sample size. On a timely note, their Lampore device provides fast, highly scalable, affordable Covid-19 detection.
What we like: We appreciate the sheer ambition of the people at Oxford Nanopore. Their DNA sequencing platforms are raising the bar industry-wide and powering their vision of being able to analyze anything at any time.
Flaws: The technology, while impressive, is still finding its feet.
Helix collects material samples, conducts DNA sequencing, and provides secure data storage for their partners in healthcare, ancestry, nutrition, and more. Helix operates its own next-gen sequencing lab in the Bay Area.
What we like: The Helix marketplace offers products created by their partners using data collected and stored by Helix. Helix makes the data easily accessible, creating a well if you will, that researchers can drink from again and again.
Flaws: The company recently reduced its workforce as it pivots away from home DNA test kits.
The goal of Tempus is to create the world’s biggest library of molecular data. To ensure both security and useful access to this data, they are also developing a proprietary operating system. Their ability to provide valuable insights and suggest leading-edge treatment options is unmatched.
What we like: They seek to harness the power of the genome to treat cancer and other scourges that have defied medical science.
Flaws: Strictly high-end genomics. If you are looking for a quick test to determine parentage or create a family tree, this is not the place.
4. Bayer CropScience
Bayer CropScience is focused on helping small farmers in the developing world get more from their land. They offer these smallholder farms access to the kind of cutting edge agricultural solutions typically reserved for agribusiness giants.
What we like: The human family is growing by leaps and bounds. Someone has to ensure we all have enough to eat, and companies like Bayer CropScience are doing that. They recognize the challenge in places like Asia and Africa and are rising to meet it.
Flaws: Genetic engineering of foodstuffs is becoming commonplace, but remains controversial.
Orig3n is on a mission to help ordinary people learn more about their inner workings by way of a variety of DNA tests that look for a variety of genetic traits. But that’s not all. They are also actively pursuing regenerative medicine therapies to expand the possibilities of repair and regrowth.
What we like: If they were strictly a home DNA test company, they would probably not make our list. But the work Orig3n is doing in regenerative medicine is truly exciting and promises to fundamentally change the recovery process for certain serious injuries.
Flaws: There are so many different branded DNA tests it is hard to know which to take seriously.
6. Guardant Health
Guardant early detection blood tests are quickly becoming an essential tool for oncologists who need to keep a close eye on high-risk patients. The Guardant blood test covers all 74 genes considered critical to accurate early detection and recurrence monitoring.
What we like: Some companies are all over the genetic map. Guardant is squarely focused on the task of finding useful ways to apply genomic data to cancer treatment. Their state of the art blood tests eliminate the need for multiple tissue biopsies.
Flaws: Their website is a much an investor hard-sell as it is a platform to highlight their innovative genomic products.
The InVitae mission is focused solely on making relevant genetic information available to the people who need it. That includes everyone from average citizens who need to know what their forebears may have passed on to them and pioneers in the field of cancer research.
What we like: InVitae has been instrumental in driving down the cost of genetic testing and making this important process available to everyone who needs it. Their kits are no gimmick but are instead designed to help save and improve lives.
Flaws: It has been a challenge for them to separate their product from gimmicks that provide legacy information of little value.
8. Veritas Genetics
Veritas Genetics was founded by pioneers in genetics from Harvard University and has a worldwide operation. Their board certified clinical team examines your results and provides valuable information regarding present and future risks.
What we like: Veritas does more than produce a family tree. They produce a comprehensive portrait of your health at the molecular level. All samples are processed in the US at their high-throughput CLIA-certified laboratory.
Flaws: Recently shuttered its US operation.
The goal of the Veracyte team is to provide highly accurate diagnoses of lung cancer, thyroid cancer, and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. By maintaining such a narrow focus, they can constantly refine their process and make a quantifiable difference in these fields.
What we like: The company’s internal research indicates their tests have prevented tens of thousands of unnecessary surgeries. Their diagnostic products are in high demand, and new, more convenient testing protocols are in the pipeline.
Flaws: With such a narrow focus their growth prospects are limited.
Roche AG is one of the premier European healthcare concerns and is intimately involved in genomics at both the diagnostic and pharmacogenomic levels. Roche develops both innovative testing regimens as well as leading-edge treatments for patients worldwide.
What we like: Roche has a 120-year history of involvement in medical science and technology. Their diagnostic algorithms are some of the best in the pharmacogenomics industry.
Flaws: Genetics is far from the company’s sole focus.
Who Needs Genomics Companies?
As long as cancer, diabetes, and other conditions continue to kill millions every year, we all need genomics companies. As long as populations continue to grow and the need for reliable crops continues to grow with it, we all need genomics companies. Because – as recent events have shown – the threat of rogue viruses is real and pressing, we all need genomics companies.
Beyond all that, people who need to establish paternity need genomics companies. People who wish to trace their ancestry need genomics companies. Would-be parents who wish to ensure their child is not saddled with a debilitating genetic disorder need genomics companies. And those who want to steer the world away from environmentally destructive industries need to support genomics companies and the vital work they do to make the world better for all of us.
How We Ranked
Genomics, as an industry, did not get off the ground until the human genome project was completed in 2003. Before then, genetic engineering was more of an aspiration than a reality. Today, genomics is impacting many aspects of life from the food we eat to the medicines we take to our view of ourselves and where we come from.
Genomics as an industry has three primary areas of concern: healthcare, DNA-profiling, and food production, with healthcare being the area that presents the most significant and most numerous opportunities. Companies that are aggressively pursuing cures for cancer and a multitude of other diseases are at the forefront of the genomics revolution.
Not too far behind are companies searching for ways to ensure the safety and viability of food supplies for an ever-growing population. Finally, there are those companies that offer DNA profiling services to law enforcement, and those who offer DNA testing kits for those who wish to better understand their cultural legacy.
Determining which are the best companies in such a fast-moving field requires assessing what aspect of genomics they focus on, the current and potential market for their products, and their overall financial health, among other things.
Genomics companies are leading the fight against cancer. Genomics are providing an unprecedented view into the workings of the body. That includes the workings of deadly diseases like cancer. Recent advances in mapping the entire genomes of tumors raise the specter of developing gene therapies that will be both low impact and highly effective.
Genomics companies can tell you where you come from. In recent years, genomics companies have sold millions of home DNA test kits that provide people with an easy way to trace their genetic lineage back centuries. These kits are often available for less than $100 and are a great way to affirm one’s cultural heritage.
Genomics companies can catch a disease before it catches you. A simple spit test can reveal if you have genetic markers that indicate susceptibility to numerous diseases. Those markers are called ‘single nucleotide polymorphisms’ (1). While they themselves do not cause disease, their presence typically indicates a person has a higher risk than others of developing breast cancer, macular degeneration, psoriasis, and more.
Genomics companies can determine if you are a father or mother. One of the most common reasons DNA tests are conducted today is to determine parentage. Millions of people first became aware of the ability of DNA to rule someone in or out as a father by watching sensationalist daytime TV shows (2). But the business of determining parentage is not a sideshow. It has serious emotional and legal implications for all involved.
Genomics companies are helping to develop better cancer drugs. Identifying people susceptible to certain types of cancer is a huge potential benefit of genomics. But cancer treatment is also set to benefit. Genetic information may provide insight into how different people will respond to various drug treatments. Dosages can then be adjusted accordingly to ensure optimal results. And certain drugs may be avoided altogether.
Genomics companies may produce the first genomic vaccines. Current vaccines expose a person to a watered-down version of a virus in order to teach their system how to guard against it. But what if you could create a vaccine using specially encoded proteins that would produce viral antibodies without the need to expose people to dangerous viruses? These genomic vaccines are closer to reality than many people think.
Genomics companies are defining the field of pharmacogenomics.
Pharmacogenomics (3) is a relatively new field – made possible by advances in genetics – that studies the way genes affect a person’s response to different drugs. Pharmacogenomics promises to transform the pharmaceutical industry by enabling companies to tailor different drugs to different groups, and in some cases, different individuals.
Genomics companies are leading the fight against rare health conditions. Genetic mutations are responsible for most rare conditions. According to the National Institutes for Health (NIH), there may be as many as 7,000 rare diseases affecting as many as 30 million Americans in total (4). Once the genetic cause of a rare disease is identified, researchers can then get busy formulating an effective therapeutic response.
Genomics companies are helping feed an increasing population. In 1950 there were 2.5 billion people. Today there are more than 7.5 billion (5). The stress that rapidly increasing population has placed on global food production has been enormous. Genetic engineering is producing crops that are more resistant to drought and other risk factors, so more food gets to the people who need it.
Genomics companies are providing a multitude of good-paying jobs. The contribution leading-edge technology companies like these make to the economy cannot be overlooked. Genomics companies have created countless thousands of good-paying jobs for people the world over. They are helping to lead the way to a better, more prosperous, and healthier future for everyone.
Genomics companies pay for many of your governmental services. Government services do not just happen on their own. They are financed primarily by taxes on corporations. Every year the contributions genomics companies make to the public till is growing by leaps and bounds and today adds up to more than $10 billion annually in the US alone.
Genomics companies are picking up the baton from farmers. Whether they were aware of it or not, humans have always engaged in genetic engineering of food (6). The modern watermelon, for instance, has been altered by centuries of cultivation and today bears almost no resemblance to its wild ancestor. Genomic companies that produce genetically modified foods simply speed up an already well-established process.
Genomics companies produce hardier crops. History is full of instances where pests have caused widespread crop devastation and starvation. Perhaps the most well-known example in the past 200 years is the Irish potato famine of the mid-19th century. A million Irish died as the result of a fungus that invaded potato crops (7). Modern genetic engineering of crops prevents this type of occurrence and protects vital food supplies.
Genomics companies produce more nutritious food. Some foods are being modified by genomics companies to increase their inherent nutritional value. This is nothing new as the nutritional profile of today’s carrots, for instance, is radically different than that of carrots from 500 years ago, before farmers started to cultivate them. Today, genomics companies are speeding up the process of increasing vital nutrients in many staple crops worldwide.
Genomics companies can help couples have healthy babies. The ethics of genetics and childbirth are hotly debated. What is not debated is the notion of preventing children from being saddled with lifelong genetic disorders. Today, preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) can warn parents about the presence of genetic anomalies that could lead to these disorders (8) and enable them to decide whether to proceed with a pregnancy or not.
Genomics companies may help find a cure for diabetes. Every year millions of people die from diabetes (9). And while the introduction of insulin a century ago has saved countless lives, the search for a cure has eluded us. That may change due to genomics. Large-scale studies of the human genome have revealed dozens of genetic variants associated with diabetes (10). In time, this knowledge may well lead to breakthrough genetic therapies.
Genomics companies may wind up leading the fight against global warming. As strange as it might seem, it is possible that plant genetics may hold the key to defeating global warming. Some scientists believe we can produce genetically modified plants that absorb much higher levels of CO2 than their natural counterparts (11). This has the potential to undo some, or even most, of the ‘greenhouse effect’ driving global temperatures up.
Genomics companies are not out to steal your genes. Some people fear that genomics companies are out to identify unusual or potentially profitable genes they may have and patent them. And indeed, during the early 2000s, thousands of human genes were patented. However, in 2013 the US Supreme Court put an end to that practice and invalidated all patents held on human genes. So there is no need to worry.
Genomics companies will help increase lifespans. There can be little doubt one of the side effects of the genomics revolution will be longer lifespans. Until the late 1900s the average lifespan had remained less than 40 years for centuries (12). Vaccinations and advancements in medicine during the 20th century pushed that average to more than 70 years. Genomics is poised to create the next significant increase in lifespans for people the world over.
Genomics companies may help develop better household products. Geneticists are creating new microbes to replace hazardous chemicals found in everything from cosmetics to dishwashing detergent. These new materials will enable companies to reduce their reliance on dangerous chemicals, drastically cut their toxic waste production, reduce their carbon footprint and prevent environmental disasters caused by things like leveling rainforests to make way for palm oil plantations (13).
Genomics companies enhance the overall quality of life for everyone. Longer lifespans, healthier children, more food, and a cleaner environment are just some of the real and potential benefits provided by genomics companies. As you read this, genomic companies are leading the fight against cancer, diabetes, and other scourges. While at the same time producing safe, high paying jobs to power the future economy.
Q: What is the human ‘genome’?
A: Volumes have been written about what the human genome is and how it works. In a nutshell, DNA – or deoxyribonucleic acid (14) – contains all the information needed to build a person. DNA is composed of nucleotides that are themselves composed of phosphates, sugar, and a nitrogen base. There are four types of nitrogen base: adenine (A), cytosine (C), guanine (G), and thymine (T). The arrangement of these bases determines the genetic code. A gene is a single unit of DNA that carries the information needed to construct a protein. There are somewhere between 20,000 and 25,000 genes, which, when taken together, comprise the human genome.
Q: Why should the average person care about genomics?
A: Genomics companies are leading the way toward a more personalized style of healthcare that will enhance the ability of medical professionals to diagnose diseases at an earlier stage when they can be more effectively treated. It is believed that many of the most common causes of death worldwide (such as heart disease and cancer) have a genetic component that can ultimately be identified and neutralized.
Q: What is genetic testing?
A: Genetic testing examines the state of various genes, proteins, or chromosomes (15) in an attempt to determine a person’s genetic susceptibility to various disorders. In some cases, genetic testing is used to confirm the presence of a genetic condition. There are currently upwards of 1,000 genetic tests in widespread use that are helping doctors deliver more effective treatment and helping patients live longer, healthier lives.
Q: What is meant by ‘informed consent’?
A: Before any type of genetic test can be carried out (exclusive of those used in criminal cases), a person needs to give what is known as ‘informed consent’ (16). Informed consent means they understand that their DNA is going to be analyzed and that the information gleaned from that analysis may be shared with third-party researchers etc. The exact nature of what may be shared with who will depend on the circumstances of the test.
Q: What do genomics companies need to perform DNA tests?
A: To conduct a DNA test, most genomics companies will use blood, hair, skin, bone marrow, saliva, or some other type of tissue or bodily fluid. The exact type of fluid or tissue will depend on the type of genetic test being conducted (cytogenetic, biochemical, or molecular). A common type of ‘home DNA test’ calls for the person to take what is called a ‘buccal smear’ from inside their cheek and send it to a lab for testing.
Q: Do home DNA kits let you test your DNA at home?
A: A common misconception is that the popular home DNA test kits will let you collect some saliva and test it in your kitchen while you have your morning coffee. But, as we alluded to in the previous answer, this is not the case. All they do is provide you a means to collect usable material (typically saliva). You then have to send that material to a lab where it will be analyzed. The whole process can take a few weeks.
Q: How do I know I can trust a genomics company to provide an accurate result?
A: Genomics companies and their labs do not operate in a vacuum. Any lab that does genetic testing must adhere to what are called The Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA). Many individual states have their own requirements that apply in addition to the federal CLIA standards (17). The various standards and requirements govern the qualifications of people conducting the tests. They also lay down the law regarding labs, their procedures, and their quality control methods.
Q: How much does a DNA test cost?
A: DNA tests are not cheap. Some may cost several thousand dollars. It largely depends on what type of test is being done. However, it should be noted that the cost of these tests has come down considerably in recent years, and some simple home test kits can now be had for less than $100.
Q: Is genomics just scientists on an ego trip playing God?
A: There are some who believe our lives are nothing more than a chemical accident. To them, fidgeting with DNA is no big deal (18). Of course, there is no way to prove we are a meaningless accident. There is only the belief, based on available evidence. On the other hand, there are those convinced we are here as part of some divine plan, and that tinkering with DNA is trodding on sacred ground. These folks have no way to prove they are right, either. So it all comes down to what you believe.
Q: Can a genomics company patent my genes?
A: In a high-profile 2013 case (19), the US Supreme Court ruled that human genes cannot be patented. The justices reasoned that, because discovering a gene does not create anything new, there is nothing to patent. When the gavel came down on that decision, more than 4,000 patents were immediately invalidated. So the answer to the question is, no, a genomics company cannot patent your genes, regardless of what they may find.
Q: What is exome sequencing?
A: Only about 1% of all DNA is involved in the process of encoding proteins. This subset of DNA is known as the ‘exome’. When researchers engage in what is called ‘whole exome sequencing’ they are looking specifically for variants in protein sequences. This more focused technique saves a lot of time and money compared to searching the entire genome for a protein sequence variation or anomaly.
Q: If a person’s DNA reveals a genetic mutation, can they be denied employment or insurance?
A: The ethics of genetics are still being worked out and represent one of the biggest challenges genomics companies face. People are wary of having their DNA tested because they fear what is found may be used against them in some fashion. In response to these fears, congress passed the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act in 2008 (20), outlawing discrimination based on genetic information.
Q: What is whole genome sequencing?
A: Whole genome sequencing is the sequencing of a person’s entire genome. Whole genome sequencing is an expensive process typically reserved for things like searching for the origins of rare diseases. Contrary to popular belief, DNA profiling (21) is not whole genome sequencing. DNA profiling merely determines the likelihood that a particular genetic material belongs to an individual. It does not look for diseases or genetic relationships.
Q: How do genomics fight cancer?
A: In February 2020, a rash of scholarly papers were simultaneously published that painted a clear picture of how glitches in DNA drive the growth of tumors. The papers were the result of an enormous international effort to map tumor genomes (22). The next logical step is for researchers to use the genetic information gleaned from this effort to develop gene-based therapies to address every known type of cancer.
Q: What do genomics companies do with my DNA information?
A: That depends on what you have permitted them to do (23). Before a genomics company can do anything with your biological material, you must sign a consent form. What they do with the information they glean from your DNA will depend on what is in that consent form. In some cases, you may be consenting to share your DNA with researchers or to allow its use in criminal investigations (24). Always read the fine print on the consent form carefully.
Q: Why haven’t genomics revolutionized medicine yet?
A: The human genome was mapped almost 20 years ago. At the time, everyone wanted to know how long it would take for genetic therapies to revolutionize medicine. No one could be sure, but few thought that 20 years on, we would still be asking essentially the same question. So what happened? The answer is simple; this is complicated stuff. Work continues (25), but that work is extremely tedious. When breakthroughs do come, they are likely to come in bunches, and they will indeed revolutionize medicine. But patience is needed until then.
Q: Is there such a thing as a genomic vaccine?
A: There is. And many are already in clinical trials. Current vaccines teach your immune system how to fight a particular virus by introducing it to a weakened version of the virus. Genomic vaccines (26) use DNA or RNA with encoded proteins. These proteins enter the cells of the vaccinated person and begin producing antibodies without the person ever being exposed to the virus itself. These vaccines have enormous potential and promise to be quick and affordable to produce.
Genomics companies are at the forefront of the quest for new and better medicines, new and better treatments, and new and better vaccines. They are leading the effort to unravel the genetic origins of cancer, diabetes, and a host of other conditions that have plagued humankind since the beginning.
But genomics companies do not confine their efforts to the healthcare space. They are also leading the fight against hunger, producing hardier crops that can withstand pests, drought, inclement weather, and more. And they are finding ways to raise the nutritional value of those foods at the same time.
Genomics companies are shining symbols of the high-tech, environmentally-friendly, socially responsible economy we seek for the 21st century. And the companies singled out for inclusion on the above list are the best of the best.
For cpoe.org’s #1 recommended genomics company, click here.