DNA-testing start-up 23andMe is experimenting with a new way to collect a lot more health data from millions of its users than just their DNA.
The company is now asking a subset of customers if they'd be willing to incorporate their lab results, prescription information and medical history, after they've received the results from the genetic test. 23andMe, which has sold about 10 million at-home DNA testing kits, will be able to access that data if users let the company connect outside medical providers using a third-party medical data network called Human API.
CNBC viewed the service in action earlier this week and the company confirmed that it's a beta program that will be gradually rolled out to all users, but declined to comment further on its plans. The service is still being piloted, said a person familiar with the matter, and the product could change depending on how it's received.
Such a move would bring the 23andMe squarely into Apple's territory.
Apple, in recent years, has developed its own health records service, which aims to aggregate medical information including lab tests and prescriptions into the Health app on the iPhone.
One missing component from Apple's program, however, is genetics data, which might present an opportunity for 23andMe to reach people who care about getting a deeper analysis of how their genetic information might impact their risk of disease.
23andMe's pitch to users is that the service is an easy way to access health data, especially if it's scattered across multiple systems, get new insights about their health, and assist with research. (Click the image to enlarge.)
For 23andMe, it's a way to improve its both its research efforts and its health insights.
Currently, the company has access to genetic information via those who take its at-home DNA test, as well as some health information that it collects via surveys. Having access to a much broader data set would provide a lot more opportunity for 23andMe to open up new sources of revenue, experts say.
While the company is best known for its $99 and up DNA test, it makes much of its money through research collaborations with pharmaceutical companies. And going forward, it hopes to produce new drug therapies by leveraging its growing health database.
"It's a clever move," noted Ruby Gadelrab, a former 23andMe vice president who now provides consulting services to health-tech companies. "For consumers, health data is fragmented and this is a step towards helping them aggregate more of it," she said.
Gadelrab also noted that it might help 23andMe provide people with information about their risks for complex, chronic ailments like diabetes, where it's helpful for scientists to access a data-set that incorporates information about individual health habits, medications, family history and more.
The company recently lost its chief scientific officer, Richard Scheller, but it still has a team of scientists working on potentially promising drug targets.
23andMe, named to the annual CNBC Disruptor 50 list five years in all, is backed by more than $780 million in venture capital, with investors including Alphabet venture arm GV, Sequoia Capital and the drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline. The company has attracted some controversy over the years for providing health information directly to consumers, including risks for cancer and other disease, especially in cases where it's provided people with false reassurance.