- Reproductive technology startup Orchid launches first commercially available whole genome sequencing test for embryos.
- The test can identify a child’s birth defects, neurodevelopmental disorders, chromosomal abnormalities and pediatric and adult cancers before a pregnancy begins, Orchid said.
- He said the technology was aimed at couples undergoing IVF, which is a type of treatment for people suffering from infertility or at risk of passing on genetic problems.
Noor Siddiqui, Founder and CEO of Orchid, at the Web Career Summit on Day 2 of Web Summit 2014 in Dublin, Ireland on November 5, 2014.
Stephen McCarthy | Getty Images
Reproductive technology startup Orchid announced a new comprehensive genetic test Tuesday that could help many expectant parents in the United States breathe a little easier.
The company is launching the first commercially available whole genome sequencing report for embryos, designed for couples undergoing in vitro fertilization, which is a type of treatment for people suffering from infertility or at risk of passing on genetic problems.
With IVF, after a woman has received about two weeks of daily hormone injections, her mature eggs are extracted and fertilized in the laboratory, and viable embryos are then transferred to the uterus.
Orchid said its new test will help couples identify whether their embryos have genetic risks such as birth defects, neurodevelopmental disorders, chromosomal abnormalities or pediatric and adult cancers that were previously only detectable after the birth.
“This is a major advancement in the amount of information parents can have,” Noor Siddiqui, founder and CEO of Orchid, told CNBC in an interview. “How you can use this information is really up to you, but it gives a lot more control and confidence in a process that, throughout history, has been completely left to chance.”
Orchid’s technology sequences more than 99% of an embryo’s genome, while existing tests typically read around 0.25%, the company said in a statement.
IVF is a painful process that can cost an average of more than $12,000 in the United States, according to the Institute for Reproductive Health. Success is not guaranteed and some people undergo several cycles of IVF before a pregnancy develops.
Orchid’s genetic test will cost couples an additional $2,500 per sequenced embryo, but it doesn’t add any new steps or risks to the IVF process, Siddiqui said. She added that the cost of the report is expected to decrease as the company is able to scale up operations and introduce more automation.
“We want to make it something that’s accessible to everyone,” Siddiqui said.
Starting Tuesday, Orchid’s technology will be available in IVF clinics in major cities such as Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami and Austin, and Siddiqui said Orchid could be made available in other clinics as well. patient requests.
Couples will receive their report from Orchid after about three weeks, the company said, and a certified genetic counselor will help them understand the results.
Orchid Whole Genome Embryo Report
Courtesy of: Orchid
Orchid has secured $12 million in funding from investors including Prometheus Fund and Refactor Capital. Anne Wojcicki, co-founder and CEO of 23andMe; Dylan Field, co-founder and CEO of Figma; Fidji Simo, CEO of Instacart; Brian Armstrong, co-founder and CEO of Coinbase, and others are also backers.
For many hopeful parents, the peace of mind is worth Orchid’s high price.
Roshan George, a 35-year-old engineer in San Francisco, began the IVF process with his wife Julie in the fall.
George said they felt some anxiety about having a baby at an older age and their nerves were heightened after their IVF clinic discovered they both had hearing loss non-syndromic, which can lead to partial or complete hearing loss.
George had heard about Orchid through a few friends, he said, and the couple decided to sequence their three viable embryos with the company. He said getting the embryos tested was very simple and when the results came back they found two of the three embryos were healthy.
“We were very relieved right off the bat,” George told CNBC in an interview. “That was very gratifying to hear.”
“Just having a certain degree of certainty – you’re going to make sure they’re not going to be sick when they’re born and all that sort of thing – that’s a huge amount of anxiety that’s been taken away,” said George said.
George Church, professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School, is an investor and advisor to Orchid. Church developed the first method of direct genome sequencing, he said, and Orchid’s technology will give parents the ability to access a hundred times more information about their baby than before.
Church said it makes “perfect sense” that parents care about helping their children, whether it’s about their genetic health, the quality of their diet or whether they’re getting enough sleep and exercise.
He added that people often think that genetic risks don’t apply to them, or that there’s nothing they can do if something goes wrong. But with Orchid, Church said parents have the detailed information they need to make informed decisions.
“If you went to Las Vegas with a 97 percent chance of winning, you would definitely go to Las Vegas,” Church told CNBC in an interview. “But it’s different when we talk about neighborhoods and children.”
Orchid’s main focus after launching Tuesday will be to expand its technology and make it more accessible, Siddiqui said.
She said Orchid had made “tremendous efforts” to identify mutations that would cause severe disease during pregnancy or early childhood or lead to serious chronic diseases. She wanted to ensure the company was able to provide parents with “highly meaningful” information.
“I think this has the potential to totally redefine reproduction,” Siddiqui said. “I just think it’s really exciting to be able to make people more confident about one of the most important decisions of their lives and give them a little more control.”