Customer Interview

Customizing Genetic Testing in Japan and Southeast Asia

Successful companies develop direct-to-consumer genetic tests tailored to the genetics of the Asian populations they serve.

Customizing Genetic Testing in Japan and Southeast Asia

Understanding the Polygenicity of Cancer

Introduction

Founded in 2004, Genesis Healthcare Co. was one of the first companies to perform genetic testing in Japan and is now the market leader, with a mission to have a meaningful impact on peoples’ lives throughout Southeast Asia.

According to Michel Mommejat, Chief Marketing Officer and General Manager for Asia at Genesis Healthcare, “If people can anticipate or prevent illness in the future, it will help them avoid many problems.” Genesis Healthcare enables people to gain that knowledge by offering a range of genetic testing services. These include GeneLife direct-to-consumer (DTC) kits, GenesisPro sequencing and array testing services, and a GenesisGaia database of GeneLife genotype and phenotype data (with customer consent) for research studies.

The company’s genetic testing services are customized for people living in Japan and Southeast Asia. “If a company tries to apply a genetic testing offering from Europe or North America here, it will not be relevant for an Asian population,” Mommejat explains. In addition to customizing its DTC kits with markers unique to Asian populations, Genesis Healthcare has sought innovative ways to engage with and educate consumers about the benefits of genetic testing. iCommunity spoke with Mr. Mommejat about Genesis Healthcare’s mission, its unique marketing strategy, and how the company’s partnership with Illumina has helped it offer specialized genetic testing in Asia.

Michel Mommejat is the Chief Marketing Officer and General Manager for Asia with Genesis Healthcare.

Q: What is the mission of Genesis Healthcare?

Michel Mommejat (MM): We see our mission as a celebration of humanity. We’re focused on offering genetic testing services that positively impact peoples’ lives, support medical and health care entities, and enhance genetic research studies in Asian populations. We are the leading genetic testing company in Japan. More than 800,000 people have purchased one of our DTC tests.

Q: What is your role at the company?

MM: I joined Genesis Healthcare in 2018 as the Chief Marketing Officer. I am also the General Manager for Asia Pacific. We are growing and expanding across Asia and now have offices in Singapore and Taiwan.

Q: What type of DTC tests and genetic testing services does Genesis Healthcare offer?

MM: Under our GeneLife brand, we offer a range of health and wellness DTC kits to empower people to make proactive lifestyle adjustments. These kits are based on the Infinium HumanCoreExome Array. We offer GeneLife kits focused on diet, beauty and skin care, sports and fitness, personality, and ancestry. In Japan, GeneLife is the number one DTC kit on Amazon and Rakuten.

Our GenesisPro offering provides genetic testing services to hospitals, medical clinics, and research institutes. We use the HumanCoreExome+ Array and perform sequencing on the NovaSeq 6000 System for this service offering.

We also have a business-to-business genetic testing service offering where we collaborate with lifestyle and beauty companies. In the past, we’ve partnered with SK-II, a high-end skin care and beauty products company, and we’re working with Nestle and DHC Corporation, a cosmetics and health food supplements company. We perform genetic testing and they use the data to make vitamin or beauty product recommendations.

Many GeneLife customers have provided consent to share their genotype and phenotype data for research purposes. This data makes up our GenesisGaia genetic database that supports research studies at pharmaceutical, medical, nutrition, and research institutes. GenesisGaia is new, but we have good traction. Our hope is that access to GenesisGaia data will accelerate their studies and support the discovery of new medical and health care solutions in the future.

"Our hope is that access to GenesisGaia data will accelerate their studies and support the discovery of new medical and health care solutions in the future."

Q: Are the DTC and genetic testing markets growing in Japan and Southeast Asia?

MM: Japan is the most mature genetic testing market in Asia because it started earlier. Japan has an aging society and its citizens are interested in knowing how to manage their health. They want to age gracefully and remain healthy as they grow older. It’s one of the key drivers for the genetic testing in Japan. From a health care perspective, Japan is also one of the largest genetic testing markets.

Southeast Asia is diverse, and the market is less mature. More work will be required to educate consumers in the region about the benefits and knowledge that can be gained from genetic testing. However, we anticipate the market will develop and testing volume will grow rapidly. In 2016, the genetic testing market in Southeast Asia was about $985 million. It’s expected to grow to $2.4 billion in 2024.1

Q: What is the competitive landscape for genetic testing services in Japan and Southeast Asia?

MM: Across the region, we see several new players. While these companies have the technology, they lack research and development experience. Genesis Healthcare has 15 years of experience in research and development of genetic test offerings in Asian populations. With our database and large customer base, we have algorithms to validate our data. Our experience gives us credibility and makes a significant difference when we enter a new market.

Q: How does Genesis Healthcare differentiate itself from its competitors?

MM: We entered the market early and that gives us a competitive edge. Our tests are more relevant for Asian populations because we have been focusing on those populations. Many of our competitors are reapplying tests developed in Europe and North America that aren’t as relevant in Asian populations.

Unlike our competitors, we manage the process from start to finish. We have our own lab, scientists, doctors, and in-house nutritionists. We also have a bioinformatics team that has developed different predictive models based on our science. The team has developed a wellness app, where our customers can access their DTC kit results. Some of our kits provide a significant amount information to the user that could be overwhelming. For example, with Genesis 2.0 we provide more than 360 points of health and wellness data. The app brings to life the results that we provide. In it, we share articles that explain the results in depth.

Q: Are there guidelines in Japan for performing genetic testing and handling genetic information securely?

MM: We have been collaborating with the government to develop genetic testing guidelines in Japan since we were founded. We are part of the Council for Protection of Individual Genetic Information (CPIGI) certification program in Japan. Our GeneLife products are CPIGI certified, which assures our customers that we ethically protect their personal data. We believe that genetic data are the most private information that there is about an individual and are focused on protecting it.

"We’ve worked with Illumina on developing genetic testing solutions that are more relevant in Asia populations. That has been one of the benefits of our partnership."

Q: How do you promote your DTC genetic testing services?

MM: We market our brand in DTC settings, ecommerce, and through retail. We have a large ecosystem of retail solutions for GeneLife, with pharmacies, department stores, gyms, and fitness centers selling our DTC kits. We were one of the first DTC genetic testing companies to promote our products on TV. Baseball is a popular sport in Japan, and New York Yankees pitcher Masahiro Tanaka was one of our spokespersons last year. We also sponsored the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, a baseball club in Sendai, Japan in 2018.

This year, we shifted to football (soccer) as part of our expansion in Southeast Asia. Football has a wider audience across the region. We’re sponsoring Vissel Kobe, a football club in Kobe, Japan, and have a new brand ambassador, Andrés Iniesta, the former FC Barcelona midfielder.

These programs have increased our brand awareness and visibility in the market. Our TV presence has been positive for our brand and is driving purchase of our DTC kits. We also are doing more with social media to educate and engage our customers.

Q: Why did you choose Illumina platforms for your testing services?

MM: We were a very early player in genetic testing and our story began with Illumina. Our founders were the first private citizens in Japan to have their genomes sequenced, which was performed on an Illumina next-generation sequencing (NGS) system. As we developed our genetic testing solutions and services, we retained a strong relationship and engagement with Illumina. That partnership has deepened, and we’ve invested in the HumanCoreExome Array and the NovaSeq 6000 System as our testing and business volume has increased. We’ve worked with Illumina on developing genetic testing solutions that are more relevant in Asia populations. That has been one of the benefits of our partnership. Working with Illumina has been a very good experience for us.

"We remain focused on providing our customers with knowledge about themselves and their genetics to promote health and wellness. That’s one of the key missions of our company, because health is wealth."

Q: What are the company’s goals for the next five years?

MM: Eighteen months ago, we opened offices in Singapore and Taiwan, and we are looking to expand across into other markets in Southeast Asia. We remain focused on providing our customers with knowledge about themselves and their genetics to promote health and wellness. That’s one of the key missions of our company, because health is wealth. We will also continue to work with hospital and pharmaceutical research groups, providing genetic testing and database access to assist them in discovering new therapeutic and diagnostic solutions for diseases that have yet to be solved.

To learn more about Genesis Healthcare and it's mission to use genetics for preventative and personalized wellness, visit genesis-healthcare.jp/en/

Learn more about the products and systems mentioned in this article:

NovaSeq 6000 System, www.illumina.com/systems/sequencing-platforms/novaseq.html

Infinium CoreExome-24, www.illumina.com/products/by-type/microarray-kits/infinium-core-exome.html

References

  1. Mordor Intelligence, Asia Pacific Genetic Testing Market (2018-2024). www.mordorintelligence.com/industry-reports/asia-pacific-genetic-testing-market. Accessed December 11, 2019.