Diagnostics

Ancestry.com joins the healthcare fray with disease-tracking AncestryHealth

Ancestry.com’s first offering, AncestryHealth, helps users track their genealogical predisposition to hereditary disease, but the company plans to expand this new health division well beyond family mapping.

Armed with the genetic data of more than 1 million of its customers, the popular genealogical website Ancestry.com just announced it’s expanding in an entirely logical direction: Healthcare.

Ancestry.com just launched AncestryHealth – a division that allows users to input their familial health conditions – and track, for free, their genealogical likelihood to be affected by certain hereditary conditions. The service is in beta testing.

The company just hired Cathy Petti as its new Chief Health Officer — tasking the experienced diagnostician with setting the overall health strategy of Ancestry.com. Petti will work with Ancestry.com’s genomics, bioinformatics, privacy and security teams to expand on the company’s health offerings, as well as lead its medical and regulatory affairs.

“Family health history is a great screening tool to help identify individuals at risk for certain conditions,” Petti said. “We’re encouraging users to sit around a kitchen table, and ask relatives what medical conditions they have — because a family conversation around medical history is a very rich data source.”

With its AncestryDNA division, Ancestry.com has sequenced a similar number of customers as 23andMe — both companies recently have genotyped more than 1 million users. But the company isn’t diving into 23andMe territory immediately – undoubtedly reticent from its competitor’s foibles with the FDA, it’s not offering predictive health information based on consumer DNA. Yet.

“We have several ideas in mind for other health offerings,” Petti said, though the planning is still in early stages.

She said that Ancestry.com is in talks with potential external partners. Pharmaceutical companies like Roche, for instance, are deeply interested in getting the genotypic and phenotypic data that companies like 23andMe and Ancestry.com are flush with.

“We’re having strategic discussions around many of these issues – we don’t offer direct-to-consumer disease testing, but things like that are on our table,” Petti said.

Notably, Reuters reported in May that Ancestry.com is exploring a sale that’s valuing the company at between $2.5 billion and $3 billion, including debt. Sources said that Permira Advisers, the European buyout firm that owns much of Ancestry.com, had hired investment banks to run an auction for the company. Petti said she can’t comment on the potential of a sale.

“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,” Ancestry.com CEO Tim Sullivan said in a statement. “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.”