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Direct Marketing of Gene Tests

On June 2006 President Bill Clinton praised the completion of the Human Genome project as a great step towards developing a healthy human kind. However, he did not infer to the beginning of an era of high sales in the industry. In less than a decade dealers in genetic tests and dietary supplements have flooded the web hawking nutritional genetics. They claim that they are able to look at a person’s genetic information and decipher what the individual should eat to promote good health. This has led to a worrying trend whereby commercialization of gene detection technology has taken place even before the scientists have gained a good understanding on how specific genes affect health or disease (Hercher, 2007).
Sciona for example, a small British firm has a product called Cleff which can be obtained through their site. The client is to fill a questionnaire with some personal details such as weight, age, smoking status and provide a DNA sample from saliva. In return the client is provided with an analysis report of his or her gene structure as well as how the person should eat and exercise. There has also been an increasing demand of gene tests whereby one unidentified dealer made sales of over 35,000 within three years starting in 2003. Investors have also identified this field as a potential market for future profits (Hercher, 2007).
Governments and consumer groups have opposed this trend. For instance, Sciona withdrew its products from the UK and shifted to the US when the Human Genetics commission threatened to investigate its dealings. The US Government Accountability Office (G.A.O) also carried out an investigation in to the operation of these companies due to an increasing concern of direct marketing of gene tests. They sent profiles of fictitious consumers to the testing companies and received assessment reports as well as dietary recommendations. G.A.O. found out that these companies misled consumers because some of the assessment reports provided could not be determined from questionnaires and genetic results only (Hercher, 2007).
Some of the information provided to customers was so ambiguous and medically unproven. Hence, they did not offer any meaningful information. For instance, some companies provided only general information on how the customer should exercise and eat, such as those obtained in health magazines. These included advising smokers to stop smoking, non-smokers not to start smoking and those eating junk food to change their eating habits. Some of the reports sent to customers were tactics of marketing dietary supplements. A case in point is a company that recommended a particular nutritional formula to different customers with different personal profile at an annual cost of $ 1,200. It later tuned out that the formula consisted of multivitamins available at local drugstores and supermarkets at a lower cost of $35 per year (Hercher, 2007).
The initiatives taken by the Human Genetics commission in UK that led to withdrawal of Sciona from the market was a great step. However, just threatening was not enough. The institution should have done investigations in to the operations of such companies to find out the impact of their products to consumers because such products might find their way back to the UK market. Secondly, the initiatives taken by the G.A.O were remarkable because they were able to find out how gene test companies swindled customers of their money. However, the government needs to come up with policies that will ensure that the FDA covers all organizations that deal in nutrigenetics. In addition, strict rules should be implemented to ensure that genetic testing is not marketed directly to customers (Hercher, 2007).

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