Ambry Genetics Launches a Free, Disease-Specific Genetic Sequencing Database For Public Use

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Genome sequencing startup Ambry Genetics announces that it will make one of its most valuable assets, its data, freely available to the general public in order to help advance research on the links between genetic mutations and diseases. Called AmbryShare, the first dataset the company is releasing contains the de-identified data of 10,000 sequenced genomes from patients with breast or ovarian cancer. The company anticipates adding an additional 200,000 sequenced genomes to its database each year as it expands beyond cancer and into other diseases. The new database is currently optimized for researchers with a background in molecular biology and data analysis, but Ambry has confirmed that in the coming years it will dedicate development staff to improving the platform to make the data more accessible to clinicians and eventually the general public.

The business case for the decision to publish this data is questionable, and bucks a longstanding trend by other genetics startups to monetize the data they amass, rather than the services they provide to the healthcare community. While Ambry seems content to give its data to the public not only for free, but at a cost, other startups like 23andMe have rescued their business models by monetizing their genetic data when service-based revenues were compromised. After the FDA shut down portions of 23andMe’s direct-to-consumer genome sequencing business, the company pivoted, and began selling access to its genetic database to pharmaceutical companies and research organizations. The move not only helped 23andMe survive a setback that very well could have put it out of business, but it also allowed it to then close a $115 million Series E funding round, suggesting that the new business model was an attractive one to investors.

In this case, the decision to share data seems to be genuinely altruistic, as Ambry Genetics founder and CEO Charles Dunlop explains, "As a stage four cancer survivor, I find it shocking that public and private laboratories routinely lock away vital genomic information. That practice is delaying medical progress, causing real human suffering, and it needs to stop. As Ambry’s CEO, I am fully committed to breaking the mold, sequencing genomes at our own expense and sharing the data on an ongoing basis. Above everything else we are all human beings, and as a 23-year veteran in the industry, I’m sick and tired of seeing suffering and death. I invite other commercial and academic laboratories to do the same." Dunlop’s call for expanded data sharing will likely do little to sway others, as the data itself is highly valuable and in great demand. The question that remains is can Ambry continue to grow and sustain itself monetarily, while giving away its data in the name of the greater good.


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