According to Business Day’s website, BD live, Discovery has entered into a deal with genome pioneer, Craig Venter, to offer its Vitality members genetic tests.
The move will enable Vitality members in the United Kingdom and South Africa to get low-cost “full exome sequencing” in exchange for giving their data to Venter’s company, Human Longevity Inc, and Discovery.
Whole exome sequencing tests screen just the protein-making segments of DNA known as exons, which represent only two percent of the human genome, but account for 85 percent of disease-causing genetic mutations.
“We have always aimed to be at the leading edge of new technology. We are very excited about it at a research level, too. We will make an anonymous database available to researchers free of charge,” said Jonathan Broomberg, CEO of Discovery Health.
Broomberg said the venture with Discovery was part of Venter’s plans to build a library of data from a million exomes, which his company would commercialise.
Human Longevity signed a multiyear deal last January to sequence and analyse tens of thousands of genomes for Roche Holding’s Genentech unit in an effort aimed at identifying new drug targets and biomarkers.
Broomberg said consumers would receive their results at the hands of a doctor or genetic counsellor. They would get a comprehensive report that included disease risk as well as potential wellness strategies.
Prof. Michael Pepper, director of the Institute for Cellular and Molecular Medicine at the University of Pretoria, acknowledged the usefulness of exome analysis, but argued that the technology on its own could not accurately weigh a consumer’s risk of a disease.
“People may have both deleterious genes and protective ones. Common non-communicable diseases are multi-factorial, with multiple genes interacting with the environment,” Pepper said, adding: “Caution must be exercised in analysing the data.”
He also questioned the ethics of a United States-firm positioning itself to exploit genomic material from South Africa and elsewhere. “It will be Discovery’s responsibility to ensure that the interests of the country and its people are protected.”
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