At a recent event where he and his wife announced a $3 billion pledge intended to eradicate disease by the end of the century, Mark Zuckerberg noted a major inefficiency of the American health care system: We spend 50 times as much money treating diseases as we do trying to prevent them.
Elad Gil was at the event, and no one could have agreed more strongly with Zuckerberg's point. Gil is co-founder and CEO of Color Genomics, a biotech startup whose mission is to help close that gap by making it so cheap and convenient to get screened for cancer-causing gene variants that everyone does it. For $250, Color customers can take a test that involves sequencing the DNA in 30 genes that play a role in causing the eight most common cancers, including breast, colorectal, skin, and pancreatic cancer.
The ambition of Gil and his three co-founders--Othman Laraki, Taylor Sittler, and Nish Bhat--is to make those tests cheaper and more comprehensive. Toward that end, they've just raised $45 million in Series B venture capital financing. General Catalyst led the round, and its managing partner, Hemant Taneja, is joining Color's board of directors, as is BlackRock co-founder and Apple board member Susan Wagner. Also participating in the round are Khosla Ventures, 8VC, U2 frontman Bono, and Emerson Collective, the philanthropic investment vehicle run by the widow of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, who died of pancreatic cancer.
While its goal is to "democratize" access to genetic data, Color is a very different animal from 23andMe, another DNA testing startup with a similar price point. 23andMe is currently prohibited by the FDA from providing customers with information about their health risks, including cancer, because its tests are less accurate and it delivers reports directly to consumers. Where 23andMe performs genotyping by looking at particular sites on chromosomes and making educated guesses about what's around them, Color does full sequencing of the 30 genes it examines, and taking a test requires getting an order from a physician, who reviews the results and helps the customer understand them.
While a number of companies--including Visa, Tencent, and OpenTable--offer Color as a health care benefit to employees, it's not covered by any insurance plans. Gil, a former executive at Twitter and Google, says keeping it an out-of-pocket expense for most customers incentivizes the company to do everything it can to make tests cheaper.
In fact, for relatives of people with a known cancer-causing mutation, it's about to become cheaper still. Through a partnership with the BRCA Foundation and several private donors, Color is set to begin offering $50 tests for proof of a BRCA mutation in a person's immediate family.
There are a number of steps healthy people who test positive for a mutated gene can take to cut their risk of contracting or dying from cancer, from opting for earlier and more frequent mammograms or colonoscopies to taking aspirin daily, which significantly reduces the incidence of colorectal and prostate cancers. "We're not giving you information you can't do anything about," says Gil.