March 17, 2017
(Last Updated: March 20 at 10:30am PT)
By Renee Morad, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff
Last year, Danvers, Mass.-based Veritas Genetics unveiled a genetic test that provides six billion letters of a person’s genome, gives patients a summary of medical dispositions—from inherited cancers to neurological disorders—and enables on-demand video calls with a genetic counselor, for just $999. That’s a big step toward affordability.
More recently, Veritas Genetics took another step forward to make genome sequencing more widely available, by hiring molecular genetics expert Birgit Funke as vice president of clinical affairs.
Funke, who was among the first to implement next-generation sequencing in a clinical setting, comes from Partners Healthcare’s cutting-edge Laboratory of Molecular Medicine and is an associate professor of pathology at Harvard Medical School.
At Veritas Genetics, she plans to make genetic screening more available for people around the world. Her end goal is to empower people to prevent disease instead of solely treating it.
“People shouldn’t get genome sequencing when they already have a disease,” says Funke. “This step should be much earlier so that patients can be proactive rather than reactive.”
She explains that the problem with individuals taking a proactive approach to their health is that “medicine isn’t wired that way.” With insurance needed to cover treatment, she says she finds it “incredibly frustrating” that “the information we have at our fingertips is just not being utilized.”
In a perfect word, everyone would have access to personal health information for preventative purposes, and at Veritas Genetics, she plans to take steps toward making this a reality. To achieve this, she aims to streamline the company’s interpretation process, implement automation and deliver actionable, clinical insights to consumers—and their physicians—globally.
When Veritas Genetics provides genome sequencing to individuals, orders require a physician’s authorization. Then, the consumer’s blood or saliva samples are collected. The results are shared with the physician, and consumers can also access a summary on their smartphone.
The Veritas Genetics team envisions a future where even smart speakers like the Amazon Echo can access a patient’s genetic screening results and make lifestyle suggestions based on it or monitor things like blood pressure with high-tech devices at home.
Veritas Genetics is also working to lay the framework for a more global presence, with labs in China and Germany and products that will be rolling out in Europe and Latin America.
Veritas Genetics currently has more than 100 employees—made up of scientists, curators, developers and bioinformaticians—in its U.S. and China offices. Launched in 2004, the company has $42 million in funding. The company is currently hiring eight more positions.
“We are focused on building the strongest sequencing and interpretation team in the industry, and Birgit will be central to our strategy for variant interpretation and classification, expanding our infrastructure and automating the process,” says Mirza Cifric, co-founder and CEO of Veritas Genetics. “She is one of the strongest forces behind the advancement of molecular genetics, and she has a genuine passion for ensuring people across the globe have access to this powerful information.”
Now, Funke explains, it’s Veritas job to rise to the challenge and make this information more accessible for all.
“We’re in an extremely powerful age with so much potential for utilizing information,” Funke says.