Color Genomics, a genetic testing startup from a few early Twitter veterans, is using its deep ties within the startup community to get more than a dozen startups and venture firms to cover half the cost of breast cancer testing for employees.
The company, which tests for the breast and ovarian cancer risk genes BRCA1 and BRCA2, is offering tests at $249. That’s more than an order of magnitude cheaper than what the field’s initial companies, like Myriad Genetics, had been offering.
Now they’re trying to spread adoption of the test with company partnerships through something they’re calling the Color Benefits program. BRCA1 and BRCA2 tests generally aren’t covered by insurers unless there is a clear family history of these cancers. The company said that as much as 80 percent of women generally aren’t aware that they’re carriers, however. These two genes are responsible for about 5 to 10 percent of the 233,000 breast cancers diagnosed annually in the United States. By the time a woman with these genes reaches 70 years of age, she has a 1 in 2 chance of developing breast cancer.
With the program, companies can choose to cover anywhere from 50 to 100 percent of the cost of a Color Test for their employees, and potentially their spouses or partners. The company will provide a test for 19 different genes on top of BRCA1 and BRCA2, along with genetic counseling to interpret the results. With company subsidies, the end price for an employee will run at around $125.
“With employer-supported testing, we want to be responsible and thoughtful about it,” said co-founder Elad Gil. “We want to raise awareness and do it in a way that is responsible. Our hope is that we can help more people get information that could help them.”
Some of the initial companies participating include Addeppar, Andreessen Horowitz, AngelList, CloudPhysics, Gainsight, Glow, Innovation Endeavors, Instacart, Medium, Sacramento Kings, Slack, Social + Capital, Stripe, SurveyMonkey, Visa and YC.
How many female employees do all of these tech companies and venture firms represent? (LOL, crying.) Gil doesn’t know exactly.
But he’s hopeful that this will spur more companies to take the pledge. To date, BRCA1 and BRCA2 testing has been so expensive that insurers can’t justify the costs of universal testing, even if it will prevent spending on chemotherapy or radiation for women with advanced breast cancer.
“At what point — if you’re running a financial model — does it become cost efficient to cover testing from the perspective of QALYs [or quality-adjusted life-years]?” he asked.
A recent article in in the Journal of the American Medical Association said it might make sense below $250. Or Color’s price point.