What does Ancestry’s move into consumer genetics mean?

AncestryHealth launched last week, with the announcement of Cathy Petti as new Chief Health Officer of Ancestry.com. The first offering from AncestryHealth is a free service, allowing consumers to compile their family health history information with the help of their Ancestry family tree.

Taking a step back and looking at the full ‘Ancestry suite’ presents an interesting picture.

Ancestry.com – the world’s largest online family history resource with more than 2 million paying subscribers, 16 billion records, and over 70 million user created family trees. That’s a lot of information.

AncestryDNA – launched in 2012, Ancestry started to collect DNA to give consumers information on their ethnic background and to connect them with distant relatives. This month, they added their 1 millionth person to their database.

Family history + DNA = One very logical conclusion. Which was finally announced as AncestryHealth.

“Ancestry fundamentally believes family history is a powerful tool that not only can educate individuals about their past and where they came from, but can inform their future,” stated Tim Sullivan, CEO of Ancestry. “This new service leverages expert research and delivers customized information to consumers about the risks and prevention measures to help empower them to make healthy lifestyle choices. Combined with the breadth and scale of Ancestry data, we expect AncestryHealth to be a key piece of the puzzle as we look to understand how health is passed down through generations, and we are excited to have Dr. Petti lead this effort.”

The big question now – what’s next? With 23andMe getting the official ok on their Bloom Syndrome, the diagnostic opportunity for AncestryHealth must be looking attractive.

The official release from Ancestry stated: “Ancestry is scaling rapidly from being the largest family history database to AncestryDNA now surpassing one million genotyped customers in just three years, making it one of the fastest growing consumer genetic networks today. Now armed with the combination of family history and DNA data, Ancestry is positioned to take a lead in giving consumers a glimpse into future possibilities. The company is also laser focused on bringing together the brightest talent, developing and designing a robust, easy-to-use platform and continuing to evolve in the health ecosystem.”

What can we take from that? First and foremost – these guys know that they have some potentially very useful data, a bought-in user base, and a very big opportunity. The FDA shut down on 23andMe, forced a drastic change in business model as the company started to open up its database to pharma. The same option is on Ancestry’s mind right now. But for now, the public facing focus is firmly on healthcare and direct patient benefit.

From Ancestry’s release: “AncestryHealth integrates health information with expertise in genealogy to help consumers trace health conditions along family lines and understand what it means to individuals and their families, while recording this valuable information to share with their physicians and future generations. The company also plans to work with institutions to integrate family health history data into electronic medical records to better help physicians use family health history as a screening tool.”

23andMe continue to divide opinion out there. Ancestry, less so. As AncestryHealth begin to develop their service, it will be interesting to see how their journey develops with the benefit of having seen 23andMe fight a lot of those early battles.