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23andMe co-founder's new startup, Precise.ly, brings genomics to India through Narayana partnership

Jonathan Shieber
KALUGA REGION, RUSSIA - OCTOBER 21, 2018: A worker in a lab at Nearmedic Pharma's integrated works manufacturing reagents for forensic DNA fingerprinting and relationship testing at the Obninsk industrial park. The new products are to be used for forensic DNA fingerprinting in criminal investigations and DNA paternity testing, as well as in medical and genealogical research. In Russia, the major consumers of DNA analysis reagents are the Interior Ministry, the Investigative Committee, the Healthcare Ministry, the Federal Security Service (FSB), the Defence Ministry, and forensic laboratories. Anton Novoderezhkin/TASS (Photo by Anton NovoderezhkinTASS via Getty Images)

Precise.ly, the new genomics startup launched by 23andMe co-founder Linda Avey and Aneil Mallavarapu, is taking its spin on direct to consumer personalized genomics to India through a partnership with Naryana Health, one of India's leading specialty hospital networks.

Narayana, a company that operates a network of 24 hospitals serving 2.5 million patients, is one of the most fascinating stories in healthcare. By emphasizing efficiencies and cost savings, the hospital network has managed to bring costs down dramatically for many procedures -- including providing cancer surgeries for as little as $700 and heart bypass surgeries for $3,000 (as this fascinating article in Bloomberg BusinessWeek illustrates).

Precise.ly's mission -- to collect and analyze genetic data from populations that typically haven't had access to the services -- is one that resonates in a world where the majority of research has been conducted on wealthier populations in wealthy countries. Other startups, like 54Gene, are trying to bring a similar message to the African continent.

Only 2% of genomic material available for research comes from Africa; 54gene wants to change that


“To date, most human genetics research has focused on European populations. But genetic insights need to be tuned to the rest of the world," said Mallavarapu, in a statement. "We’ve assembled a team of experts who are pioneering advances in genetic analysis and its application to the huge populations of people in south Asia and beyond.” 

Some of that work is being done in concert with Narayana health, the hospital network founded by Dr. Devi Prasad Shetty nearly twenty years ago. Dr. Shetty is initially hoping that Precise.ly's genetic database will be able to help his hospitals build out a stem cell donor registry that could help hundreds of thousands of Indians who need transplants.

“Personal genetic testing is recognized by the U.S. FDA to test genetic risk for Parkinsonism, late onset Alzheimer’s disease and celiac disease. It is only a matter of time before most diseases get added to the list," Dr. Shetty said in a statement. "Because of the simplicity of genetic testing from saliva samples, it’s possible to conduct large-scale population screening at a reasonable cost. We are working with Precise.ly’s team of researchers to add HLA typing, which has the potential to transform cancer and other disease treatments in India."

The path to entering the Indian market was slightly circuitous for Precise.ly. When Avey first left 23andMe, she went to RockHealth (an investor in the company's $1 million seed round), and began exploring ways to organize and store more of a patient's quantified health data.

As that company failed to gain traction, Avey took another look at the genetics market and found that there were significant opportunities in underserved markets -- and that India, with its rising middle class and burgeoning healthcare industry would be a good target.

"We decided we would build on this Helix platform all kinds of apps for people who had specific diagnosis," says Avey. But the market was already chock full of startups (including 23andMe), so an early investor in the company from, Civilization Ventures, and its founder Shahram Seyedin-Noor suggested that they begin to look globally for growth.

“Precise.ly’s mission is to deliver validated genetic insights to the billions of people living outside the western world. We’re initially focused on India where there are urgent health issues readily addressable through access to personal genomic data,” said Avey, the chief executive officer of Precise.ly, in a statement. “Our partnership with Narayana is vital to delivering on the promise of precise, data-driven health.”