Myriad DTC Genetics Marketing

Between September 2002 and February 2003 a genetic test was marketed direct-to-consumer (DTC) by Myriad Genetics, perhaps the first legitimate medical genetic test to go DTC.  The ad campaign by Myriad was for BRCAnalysis, a genetic test measuring risk for breast and ovarian cancer based on the presence/absence of mutations in specific genes.  The campaign aired in only two cities, Denver and Atlanta.

A recent Business Week article describes Myriad’s campaign as well as a follow-up study conducted by the CDC assessing it’s impact on consumer behavior in the test markets.  The CDC report provides the following summary of these results:

"consumer and provider awareness of BRCA1/2 testing increased in the pilot cities and… providers in these cities perceived an impact on their practice (e.g., more questions asked about testing, more BRCA1/2 tests requested, and more tests ordered)."

So far so good.  Then the authors of the CDC study continue:

"However, in all four cities, providers often lacked knowledge to advise patients about inherited BOC and testing. These findings underscore the need for evidence-based recommendations on appropriate use of genetic tests and education of providers and the public to achieve maximum individual and public health benefit from genetic testing."

Indeed, there are only about 400 genetic counselors in the U.S. that specialize in cancer genetic counseling.  A napkin sketch of the numbers…approx. 290 million U.S. population, 150 million female population, say 1% of the female population are candidates for genetic testing for breast cancer, then roughly 1.5 million women are potentially in need of genetic counseling at some point for this test.

How about virtual genetic counseling?  Probably not for everyone, but likely to get much much better (and much much more popular?).  A recent EurekaAlert public release describes a recent study of virtual genetic counseling for breast cancer:

An interactive computer program developed at Penn State College of Medicine is as effective as one-on-one genetic counseling for increasing knowledge of breast cancer and genetic testing among women at low risk for breast cancer…Counselors were, however, more effective than the computer program at reducing women’s anxiety and helping them to more clearly understand their risk.

"’These results suggest that the computer program has the potential to stand alone as an educational intervention for low-risk women, but should be used in combination with one-on-one genetic counseling for women at high risk,’ said Michael J. Green, M.D., M.S., associate professor of humanities and medicine, Penn State College of Medicine. ‘The computer program is an alternative means of communicating information about genetic testing and may help women without access to genetic counselors to decide whether or not to have genetic testing for susceptibility to breast cancer.’"

How will personal genomics change the nature of genetic testing?  Currently, a person may go to their doctor or genetic counselor to discuss the availability, accuracy, and helpfulness of genetic tests for a specific disease that is prevalent in their family.  This person may decide to go ahead with the test; a buccal swab is taken and sent to a lab; several weeks pass and the patient and doctor meet again to discuss the results.  In the future, a person might need only to jump online, access their genome (which is attached to their electronic medical record), and click-through a virtual test since the genome sequence is already known.  Educational materials and virtual counseling are available throughout this online experience.  For those who desire face-to-face counseling (including the possibility of video webchat), an appointment can be made online at any time.

Amy Tsao. Genetic Testing Meet Mad Ave. Business Week.  July 28, 2004.

Jacobellis, J. et al. Genetic Testing for Breast and Ovarian Cancer Susceptibility: Evaluating Direct-to-Consumer Marketing — Atlanta, Denver, Raleigh-Durham, and Seattle, 2003.  MMWR weekly. 53(27):603-606 July 16, 2004.

The press release announcing the DTC campaing for BRCAnalysis by Myriad Genetics.

Press Release. Virtual counselor supplements traditional genetic counseling. EurekaAlert. July 27 2004.

Green MJ et al. Effect of a computer-based decision aid on knowledge, perceptions, and intentions about genetic testing for breast cancer susceptibility: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA 292(4):496-8.

Other Resources:
National Cancer Institute on Breast Cancer

National Cancer Institute on Ovarian Cancer

Myriad Genetics on Ovarian and Breast Cancer



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