From B2C to B2B: Japanese genetic testing giant appeals to industry to find solutions for rare diseases

By Cheryl Tay

- Last updated on GMT

The project will employ whole-genome sequencing (WGS) — the analysis of the entire genomic DNA sequencing — to cover a comprehensive list of diseases. ©Getty Images
The project will employ whole-genome sequencing (WGS) — the analysis of the entire genomic DNA sequencing — to cover a comprehensive list of diseases. ©Getty Images

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Japanese genetic testing giant Genesis Healthcare is hoping to offer solutions for patients with rare diseases by broadening its business model to include B2B services.

The Tokyo-based firm — also known as GeneLife in Japan — has so far dominated the country's growing consumer genetic testing sector​ with its range of DNA home testing kits, but now wants to work with other businesses, including personalised nutrition firms,  to help develop condition-specific solutions.

Researching the rare

As such, Genesis has launched the Genesis Asia 1,000 Project, which aims to profile the whole genomes of 1,000 patients with rare diseases in Asia.

To kick-start the project, the company has invited public participation from patients, as well as independent researchers and research institutes from Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Researchers can contact Genesis at any time, either through its headquarters in Japan, or its regional offices in Singapore and Taiwan.

As there is currently no Asia-focused genome database, Genesis aims to support researchers in the region in identifying the causes of and possible solutions to rare diseases.

The project will employ whole-genome sequencing (WGS) — the analysis of the entire genomic DNA sequencing — to cover a comprehensive list of diseases, including Alzheimer's disease, autism, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis (MS), myelopathic muscular atrophy, moyamoya disease, and other rare diseases.

This service will be provided at no cost to the 1,000 patients who sign up to join the project, whose other purpose is to attract manufacturers in the nutraceutical and pharmaceutical sectors, as well as healthcare professionals.

Ultimately, the project is expected to drive new product development in the nutraceutical and pharmaceutical sectors, and to help researchers and medical professionals develop new and improved solutions for treating rare diseases.

From B2C to B2B

Speaking to NutraIngredients-Asia​, MD Yoshito Funabashi said, "Our founders' youngest son was born with autism, caused by a genetic disorder. But at the time, there was no genetic testing service available to consumers. They conducted their own research, which cost them millions."

He added that their experience then led them to decide to make genetic testing services available to the general public, so that parents in similar situations (as well as anyone who wanted to know more about their own health and genetics) could do so without spending excessive amounts of money.

Now that the company's DNA home testing kits have proved successful, the decision to branch out into B2B services with this new project represents its desire to bring its genetic testing abilities to the next level.

Funabashi said, "Some researchers want to find the causes of and solutions to rare diseases, and others want to create new drugs. There are also opportunities within the nutraceutical and supplement sectors, for manufacturers to develop new products to benefit the consumer.

"Certainly, we are open to working with personalised nutrition companies to create better solutions for those who suffer from rare diseases.

"Our imagination does not cover everything, but we want to discover as many possibilities as we can with this project."

The sequence of things

In addition to the Genesis Asia 1,000 Project, the company has also launched a new sequencing centre in Tokyo, featuring the high-throughput next-generation sequencers (NGS) that enable high-quality WGS of a large number of specimens simultaneously.

This has allowed Genesis to keep its prices affordable, breaking the benchmark US$1,000 price in Japan for the first time at US$889 per specimen; the same price also applies to customers in South East Asia.

The company is also considering opening similar sequencing centres in other countries in Asia.

Funabashi said, "It all depends on how much demand we get in each country. We are certainly open to any opportunity we might come across. We definitely want to open one in Singapore, and we hope to do the same in other parts of South East Asia."

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