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China science

iGene: Hong Kong biotech start-up Prenetics bringing 48-hour DNA tests to broader Chinese market for safer prescriptions

Insurer Ping An Ventures, which has 200 million policy holders in China, leads US$10 million funding round in Prenetics; start-up to launch non-invasive test for colon cancer in city in 3 months

PUBLISHED : Monday, 04 April, 2016, 9:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 05 August, 2016, 4:59pm

A Hong Kong biotech start-up offering DNA testing to help doctors better prescribe medications and avoid adverse drug reactions plans a push into China, following a US$10 million venture capital funding round led by a subsidiary of mainland insurance giant Ping An.

Danny Yeung, chief executive officer of Prenetics, said the Series A financing with Ping An Ventures last month would allow the company to tap into the world’s third-largest insurance market.

“Ping An have 200 million policy holders in China, so certainly we are looking to work with them very closely to see how we can integrate our tests,” Yeung said.

“To them, [Prenetics DNA testing] provides innovation, it provides a great value add to existing policy holder and certainly there’s a cost-saving involved.”

Yeung expects the Chinese market to embrace the test after similar testing has been well-received in the United States, where many insurers now cover the service.

The pharmacogenomics firm was built on technology designed by City University of Hong Kong researchers and conducts all its testing in house, which brings down costs, Yeung said.

Pharmacogenomics is the study of how genes affect a person’s response to drugs.

The start-up’s technology can inform doctors of what medication and dosage a patient requires based on an analysis of their ability to metabolise drugs.

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The test and prescribing guidelines were designed to reduce adverse reactions and lower costs associated with over- or under- prescribing.

Adverse reactions to medication and therapeutic biologic products were linked to almost 125,000 deaths in the United States in 2014, according to Food and Drug Administration records.

In China, 2.5 million patients are hospitalised each year for adverse drug reactions and more than 190,000 of these patients die, according to the World Health Organisation.

Each iGenes test costs under US$500 and is comprised of two cheek swabs, which are sent to the Prenetics lab for analysis.

A patient’s DNA can be analysed within 48 hours and their doctor provided with a key on how to prescribe the most common 200 medications.

Patients are given their data through an app which can be updated as more research is published on how a person’s metabolism reacts to different medications.

Yeung, a serial entrepreneur who sold his group-buying company to Groupon, joined Prenetics in 2014 to help commercialise the Hong Kong firm’s DNA testing technology.

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Prenetics, which is focusing on the vast Asia-Pacific market, has also received investment from Indonesian conglomerate Lippo Group, which gives it access to this company’s network of private hospitals in a country with a population of more than 250 million.

Yeung said Prenetics will release a non-invasive test for colon cancer in the next three months, enabling doctors to catch the disease in its early stage. The disease was the second most common form of cancer in Hong Kong last year.

By the end of this year, the company will also release a test to allow doctors to better tailor the drugs used to treat cancer, Yeung said.