Early Twitter Vets Launch Color Genomics To Make Genetic Screenings For Breast Cancer Affordable


Image Credits:

I’m always excited when an experienced team from the consumer mobile world crosses over into a complex and formidable area like healthcare or biotech. With Color Genomics, we’re getting just that.

Elad Gil and Othman Laraki, who sold Mixer Labs to Twitter six years ago and went on to oversee search, geo and growth for the company, have joined forces again to do affordable genetic screenings for women.

They’re focusing on the two BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. Although mutations on these two genes only happen in 1 to 2 percent of the population, they’re heavily associated with breast cancer. If you have a mutation in BRCA1, you have a lifetime risk of up to 80 percent for developing breast cancer and up to a 50 percent chance of developing ovarian cancer.

So Laraki and Gil’s new company, Color Genomics, focuses on bringing the costs of screenings down to $249.

“For every one woman that our competitors can test, we can test 10 women for the same price,” Gil said. Competitor Myriad Genetics, which famously lost a case at the U.S. Supreme Court in 2013 over whether it had a patent on the BRCA genes and thereby a monopoly on testing around them, charges roughly $4,000.

The Color Test is a clinical­-grade, comprehensive genetic sequencing test that covers 19 major genes associated with breast and ovarian cancer. The tests have to be ordered through a physician — either through the patient’s doctor or one inside of Color’s network.

All test results come paired with a genetic counseling session at no extra charge. Making sense of these genetic screenings can be an emotionally fraught and complex process. If a woman, for instance, is a carrier, she may have to make tough medical choices around prophylactic surgery. Angelina Jolie, a BRCA1 mutation carrier who lost her mother to breast cancer, famously wrote a New York Times op-ed two years ago about her choice to have a preventative double mastectomy.

What qualifies Gil and Laraki to cross over into bioinformatics?

Gil, who you might know from his (very) good blog as an angel investor and serial entrepreneur, actually has a Ph.D. in genetics. He did graduate research on cancer and functional genomics at MIT before going into the consumer web at Google and then at Twitter. Laraki also has a personal interest, given that he’s a BRCA2 mutation carrier.

Taylor Sittler, another co-founder, was recently a pathology resident at UCSF who has been working on algorithms for more accurate cancer screenings. The last co-founder, Nish Bhat, was a security engineer at Lookout. They’ve brought on Mary ­Claire King, the scientist credited with discovering the BRCA1 gene, as an adviser, too.

Using the mixed genetics and computer science background of their 25-person team, Gil and Laraki have focused on getting the screening costs down.

“The question for us is how can you use a combination of software, lab automation and an understanding of biology to drive down the cost dramatically?” Gil said.

This involves making custom machinery and new types of software analysis to make sense of all of the data that these tests produce. Another Bay Area bioinformatics company that’s valued at more than $1 billion privately called Counsyl has taken a similar tack, by even custom-making their own robotics arms to handle large tray samples. They do BRCA screenings too, although their major focus is on carrier screening, which helps prospective parents learn if they are at risk of passing on any recessive gene disorders to their potential offspring. All of these companies are part of a wave of new startups that marry computer science with biology amid a dramatic decline in the cost of genetic sequencing.

With the launch, Color has attracted a whole host of funding from prominent female investors including Eventbrite’s Julia Hartz, Twitter’s Katie Stanton and alum Chloe Sladden, Laurene Powell Jobs, Blackrock founding partner Sue Wagner, Google board member Ann Mather and Minted CEO Miriam Naficy. Khosla Ventures and Formation 8 are the major venture firms in the $15 million round.

They’re also finding ways to make it free to lower-income communities with an Every Woman Program, that will delivery free testing through UCSF and the University of Washington. Every person who purchases a test can donate money to support another woman who cannot afford it.

“Our broad goal is to democratize access to genetic testing,” Laraki said. “I’ve had two grandparents pass away from this disease, so for me, the focus on cancer was very natural.”

More TechCrunch

Meta’s Oversight Board has now extended its scope to include the company’s newest platform, Instagram Threads, and has begun hearing cases from Threads.

Meta’s Oversight Board takes its first Threads case

The company says it’s refocusing and prioritizing fewer initiatives that will have the biggest impact on customers and add value to the business.

SeekOut, a recruiting startup last valued at $1.2 billion, lays off 30% of its workforce

The U.K.’s self-proclaimed “world-leading” regulations for self-driving cars are now official, after the Automated Vehicles (AV) Act received royal assent — the final rubber stamp any legislation must go through…

UK’s autonomous vehicle legislation becomes law, paving the way for first driverless cars by 2026

ChatGPT, OpenAI’s text-generating AI chatbot, has taken the world by storm. What started as a tool to hyper-charge productivity through writing essays and code with short text prompts has evolved…

ChatGPT: Everything you need to know about the AI-powered chatbot

SoLo Funds CEO Travis Holoway: “Regulators seem driven by press releases when they should be motivated by true consumer protection and empowering equitable solutions.”

Fintech lender SoLo Funds is being sued again by the government over its lending practices

Hard tech startups generate a lot of buzz, but there’s a growing cohort of companies building digital tools squarely focused on making hard tech development faster, more efficient and —…

Rollup wants to be the hardware engineer’s workhorse

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is not just about groundbreaking innovations, insightful panels, and visionary speakers — it’s also about listening to YOU, the audience, and what you feel is top of…

Disrupt Audience Choice vote closes Friday

Google says the new SDK would help Google expand on its core mission of connecting the right audience to the right content at the right time.

Google is launching a new Android feature to drive users back into their installed apps

Jolla has taken the official wraps off the first version of its personal server-based AI assistant in the making. The reborn startup is building a privacy-focused AI device — aka…

Jolla debuts privacy-focused AI hardware

OpenAI is removing one of the voices used by ChatGPT after users found that it sounded similar to Scarlett Johansson, the company announced on Monday. The voice, called Sky, is…

OpenAI to remove ChatGPT’s Scarlett Johansson-like voice

The ChatGPT mobile app’s net revenue first jumped 22% on the day of the GPT-4o launch and continued to grow in the following days.

ChatGPT’s mobile app revenue saw its biggest spike yet following GPT-4o launch

Dating app maker Bumble has acquired Geneva, an online platform built around forming real-world groups and clubs. The company said that the deal is designed to help it expand its…

Bumble buys community building app Geneva to expand further into friendships

CyberArk — one of the army of larger security companies founded out of Israel — is acquiring Venafi, a specialist in machine identity, for $1.54 billion. 

CyberArk snaps up Venafi for $1.54B to ramp up in machine-to-machine security

Founder-market fit is one of the most crucial factors in a startup’s success, and operators (someone involved in the day-to-day operations of a startup) turned founders have an almost unfair advantage…

OpenseedVC, which backs operators in Africa and Europe starting their companies, reaches first close of $10M fund

A Singapore High Court has effectively approved Pine Labs’ request to shift its operations to India.

Pine Labs gets Singapore court approval to shift base to India

The AI Safety Institute, a U.K. body that aims to assess and address risks in AI platforms, has said it will open a second location in San Francisco. 

UK opens office in San Francisco to tackle AI risk

Companies are always looking for an edge, and searching for ways to encourage their employees to innovate. One way to do that is by running an internal hackathon around a…

Why companies are turning to internal hackathons

Featured Article

I’m rooting for Melinda French Gates to fix tech’s broken ‘brilliant jerk’ culture

Women in tech still face a shocking level of mistreatment at work. Melinda French Gates is one of the few working to change that.

1 day ago
I’m rooting for Melinda French Gates to fix tech’s  broken ‘brilliant jerk’ culture

Blue Origin has successfully completed its NS-25 mission, resuming crewed flights for the first time in nearly two years. The mission brought six tourist crew members to the edge of…

Blue Origin successfully launches its first crewed mission since 2022

Creative Artists Agency (CAA), one of the top entertainment and sports talent agencies, is hoping to be at the forefront of AI protection services for celebrities in Hollywood. With many…

Hollywood agency CAA aims to help stars manage their own AI likenesses

Expedia says Rathi Murthy and Sreenivas Rachamadugu, respectively its CTO and senior vice president of core services product & engineering, are no longer employed at the travel booking company. In…

Expedia says two execs dismissed after ‘violation of company policy’

Welcome back to TechCrunch’s Week in Review. This week had two major events from OpenAI and Google. OpenAI’s spring update event saw the reveal of its new model, GPT-4o, which…

OpenAI and Google lay out their competing AI visions

When Jeffrey Wang posted to X asking if anyone wanted to go in on an order of fancy-but-affordable office nap pods, he didn’t expect the post to go viral.

With AI startups booming, nap pods and Silicon Valley hustle culture are back

OpenAI’s Superalignment team, responsible for developing ways to govern and steer “superintelligent” AI systems, was promised 20% of the company’s compute resources, according to a person from that team. But…

OpenAI created a team to control ‘superintelligent’ AI — then let it wither, source says

A new crop of early-stage startups — along with some recent VC investments — illustrates a niche emerging in the autonomous vehicle technology sector. Unlike the companies bringing robotaxis to…

VCs and the military are fueling self-driving startups that don’t need roads

When the founders of Sagetap, Sahil Khanna and Kevin Hughes, started working at early-stage enterprise software startups, they were surprised to find that the companies they worked at were trying…

Deal Dive: Sagetap looks to bring enterprise software sales into the 21st century

Keeping up with an industry as fast-moving as AI is a tall order. So until an AI can do it for you, here’s a handy roundup of recent stories in the world…

This Week in AI: OpenAI moves away from safety

After Apple loosened its App Store guidelines to permit game emulators, the retro game emulator Delta — an app 10 years in the making — hit the top of the…

Adobe comes after indie game emulator Delta for copying its logo

Meta is once again taking on its competitors by developing a feature that borrows concepts from others — in this case, BeReal and Snapchat. The company is developing a feature…

Meta’s latest experiment borrows from BeReal’s and Snapchat’s core ideas

Welcome to Startups Weekly! We’ve been drowning in AI news this week, with Google’s I/O setting the pace. And Elon Musk rages against the machine.

Startups Weekly: It’s the dawning of the age of AI — plus,  Musk is raging against the machine