One of the things I like most about my job at DNA Genotek is the opportunity to speak with customers who are breaking new ground in the fields of genomics and microbiome. In the past 9 years, I’ve spoken with hundreds of customers and written blogs about dozens of them. I recently had a chance to speak with Sergey Musienko, CEO of Atlas Biomed. Atlas Biomed, based in the UK, is defining a new market by offering direct-to-consumer products for both genomic and microbiome analysis within the European market. I wanted to share the conversation I had with Sergey about how Atlas Biomed is defining this new market, the challenges he faces and what he is learning along the way.
Q&A with Sergey Musienko
Can you provide some background surrounding Atlas Biomed’s approach to health care and the type of information you provide to your customers?
Sergey Musienko: We believe in the four P’s of personalized medicine: prediction, personalization, participation and prevention. This means taking personalized information about your health, from your DNA to your microbiome to how much you exercise, bringing all of that data together and making predictions about your predisposition to any number of conditions. Many of today’s most common diseases are what we call multifactorial: while genetics play a role in how likely you are to suffer from obesity or type II diabetes, there are a large number of other factors to take into account. Our job is first to make the entire experience as easy beneficial as possible for our customers. This includes ensuring the sample collection process as easy as possible by providing testing kits right to your doorstep, and then to combine and cross-interpret data to give you the best predictions about your health that we can. Once we have predictions about a customer’s health and disease risks, we want to give them the tools to actually act upon this knowledge and improve their wellbeing: this is participation and prevention. We provide personalized dietary and lifestyle recommendations designed to target each person’s risk area. In our DNA Test, Atlas Biomed technology searches your genome for 282 hereditary conditions like cystic fibrosis and also evaluates your risk status for 17 complex conditions like high blood pressure, obesity, and type II diabetes.
Our Microbiome Test determines the richness and diversity of your microbiome, protection level against five complex conditions (Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, obesity, type II diabetes and coronary heart disease), dietary fibre intake as well as vitamin and nutrient synthesis. You receive personalized food recommendations to improve your diet and promote microbiome health from a list of 300 scientifically-backed foods.
What are the main differences between Atlas’s Microbiome and DNA offerings? Why would someone choose one or the other, or should people choose both?
Sergey Musienko: We wanted to separate out the tests to make it easy and accessible for people to buy them. Let’s say somebody has already taken a DNA test elsewhere and only wants to do the microbiome test, or they just have less money to spend, we’d still want them to be able to take part in bettering their health. Of course ideally we love for the customer to choose both: the more information we have at our disposal, the more accurate the predictions about their health will be, particularly when it comes to complex diseases. Atlas is building an ecosystem of health, so the more data points we have—from the DNA and Microbiome Tests to the lifestyle questionnaire we currently ask our customers to fill out—the better. Our long-term goal is to be a one-stop shop for consumers’ personalized health needs and education.
What are the main challenges your team has faced in getting these product offerings off the ground?
Sergey Musienko: The biggest challenge with this kind of product development is that it’s a very complex and multifaceted process. You need to build a team that has a wide range of competencies, and they have to be the best in each field—you need to have really strong scientific guys, and this involves different R&D teams for our two different tests. But you also need to develop the product, so you have to have excellent professionals in IT development, product design, user experience, and digital marketing—all of these things then have to be brought together and combined under one roof.
In which countries do you offer your products and services?
Sergey Musienko: We currently sell our DNA and Microbiome Tests in the UK, Sweden, The Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, Denmark, Finland and Ireland.
What feedback can you provide on your experience using OMNIgene●GUT and Oragene●DNA for sample collection?
Sergey Musienko: Our overall experience using OMNIgene·GUT and Oragene·DNA for sample collection has been very positive. We get excellent reviews and our customers often like the collection devices so much that they take photos of them and post them on social media, which is great and helps us promote our entire approach to personalized health with tools that can be delivered right to your doorstep. One learning experience for us has been that whenever the consumer can get something wrong, they eventually will—whether it's messing up the collection devices by putting them into the wrong boxes, forgetting to enter the barcode onto our website, spilling the buffer liquid or losing the kits. But our feathers aren’t ruffled over these kinds of mishaps: they’re an inevitable part of the process.
Can you describe the sample-to-analysis process for this project? What extraction and analysis process do you use? What role do you think the sample plays in the process and to the quality of your results?
Sergey Musienko: For microbiome studies in particular, having a single unified protocol for preparing samples is essential. Having DNA genetic containers with the buffer liquid allows us to simplify the logistics by being able to send samples at room temperature, but it also helps us establish a really strong, unified protocol. We are using a standardized 16S rRNA sequencing protocols, and there is a lot of research coming out that follows the same protocols. That helps us integrate our data with new findings and experiments. We believe DNA Genotek is the leader in the industry today, and will only cement this position as gut sample technology becomes more and more popular.
Why did you choose to use DNA Genotek’s products/services?
Sergey Musienko: DNA Genotek has the potential to become a gold standard when it comes to sample collection. It is very widespread, very high quality and easy to use logistically: the fact that we are able to ship samples at room temperature is really important for us. The products are also affordable, which is key because we want to maintain low prices for the tests we sell and make them as widespread and accessible as possible. Keeping the price tag right is really important. Another feature of DNA Genotek that we really appreciated was the ability to customize the packaging. We are able to put our own logos, design, and graphics on the boxes and make them various shapes and colors. We had a very positive experience working with the design team from DNA Genotek, who helped us and guided us along in customizing the boxes for our needs.
Do you have any thoughts on where you think the microbiome field is heading and what future applications you see coming from it?
Sergey Musienko: We believe that the microbiome has huge potential when it comes to therapeutics. In recent years, we’ve seen major advances in the way we analyze the microbiome. We can take a bacterial composition and understand what it actually means and how it affects our bodies and our health. This has meant a lot when it comes to diagnostics, as new discoveries are being made every month about how our gut microbiome impacts different health conditions, from obesity to mental health issues like depression. I believe the next step is taking that information and applying it to treatment: we will learn more about how we can actually impact and influence our microbiome in ways that make us healthier and protect us from potential diseases. Treatment can be anything from probiotics and prebiotics to actual fecal transplants. A broad spectrum of different instruments will allow us to directly alter someone’s bacterial composition in a controlled manner so as to prevent a range of chronic conditions, such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, as well as obesity, diabetes and gut infections. We believe we will soon see much wider adoption: just as DNA testing has become popular and widespread, I believe that will soon be the case for microbiome testing. And with consumers driving demand, medical professionals, research teams and the pharmaceutical industry are and will continue to use this relatively new science to make major advances in their respective fields.
On behalf of everyone at DNA Genotek, thank you Sergey for agreeing to share this information with us. If you’d like to learn more about the DNA Genotek products and customization services referenced in this article, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on Atlas, please visit atlasbiomed.com
OMNIgene●GUT (OM-200) is CE marked for IVD use in Europe. OMNIgene●GUT (OMR-200) is for research use only, not for use in diagnostic procedures. Oragene●DNA is CE marked for IVD use in Europe.