Genetic startups and gene sequencing projects target the developing world populations

Though countries outside the U.S., Europe, and Japan make up 60 percent of the world’s population, they contribute less than 1 percent of sequenced genomic data globally.

This is largely because poor countries historically focused their health resources on managing and eradicating communicable diseases and did not establish programs like the Human Genome Project in the U.S. and Genomics England in the U.K.

Global Gene sees a business opportunity in this omission. Taking into account population predictions, cancer statistics, and pharmaceutical research spending, company executives think the Indian market for genomic information that could be used in drug development and cancer treatment may reach $1.9 billion. Adding in China, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East—areas where Global Gene hopes to expand—would increase the total addressable market to $8.1 billion, with a 14 percent annual growth rate

The company has also already gathered more than 10,000 DNA samples with patient consent, resulting in what it says is India’s largest genomics biobank, and established the core for a reference genome (a digital “average” genome) for Indians. It says a reference genome will help it derive insights about the many diseases in India.

Global Gene isn’t the only player with its eye on Asia. A nonprofit consortium of academics and companies, called ­GenomeAsia 100K, wants to sequence 100,000 people in South, North, and East Asia and create perhaps 50 to 100 reference genomes, representing all major Asian ethnic groups, within the next four years. Japan, for example, is believed to have three major ethnic groups, with some degree of genome variation

Large-scale genetic mapping projects have often struggled to acquire enough samples to draw meaningful conclusions. Global Gene is trying to sidestep the problem by obtaining samples through multiple sources, including partner hospitals, research projects, and voluntary donations from individuals who arrange for testing on their own.

Payment may be an issue, says ­Lawton R. Burns, a professor of health-care management at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School who has written books about China and India. He estimates that only 25 percent of Indians have medical insurance, and most of those plans wouldn’t cover genetic testing.

Global Gene’s clinical tests range in cost from $75 to $538. India’s median income was $616 in 2013

Human Longevity Inc (HLI, Craig Venters genetic company, has two dozen sequencing machines work around the clock, sequencing one human genome every 15 minutes at a cost of under $2,000 per genome. The whole operation fits comfortably in three rooms.

Venter’s goal is to sequence at least one million genomes, something that seems likely to take the better part of a decade, and use the data generated from them—along with information about some of the DNA donors’ health histories and the results of other medical tests—to find better ways to treat and prevent a range of disorders common among aging people, from cancer to heart disease.

SOURCES- Technology Review, Global Genes