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To Make Breast and Ovarian Cancer Tests More Affordable, Color Genomics Raises $15 Million

Ever heard of BRCA1 and BRCA2? You should.

Color Genomics said it had raised $15 million from two prominent venture firms and a spate of high-profile women angel investors, in an effort to make a breast and ovarian cancer genetic risk test that is affordable.

The Burlingame, Calif., company is backed by Khosla Ventures and Formation 8, along with a roster of funders that include Laurene Powell Jobs, Cisco’s Padmasree Warrior, Twitter’s Katie Stanton, Eventbrite’s Julia Hartz, Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang, Dropbox co-founder CEO Drew Houston and many others. Color Genomics — which said its “mission is to democratize access to genetic testing” for women — is now offering a doctor-authorized kit that costs $249, a significant reduction from more current tests that can cost thousands of dollars.

The lowering and automation of medical testing costs has become a bit of an investing trend in Silicon Valley, including such high-profile startups as 23andMe, which offers DNA testing, and fertility app Glow.

Color Genomics has several former Twitter and Google execs as well as medically trained employees. After it is ordered by a physician, its kits are sent to patients, who take a spit test to analyze 19 genes, including BRCA1 and BRCA2. These are the mutations associated with breast and ovarian cancer, which have gotten a lot of attention recently because of actor and filmmaker Angelina Jolie’s efforts to put a spotlight on the needs for testing (she has the BRCA1 mutation and has written about her decision to remove her breasts, ovaries and fallopian tubes to minimize her cancer risk).

After the results are in, Color Genomics offers free genetic counselors to its users.

In an interview, Color Genomics CEO and co-founder Elad Gil did note that the company was a for-profit enterprise, but that its goals were to bring important genetic testing to a wider range of people. “What we are doing is a unique marrying of software automation with genetics and medicine. That is the strength of what we are doing.”

There is a lot going on in the arena. As reported by the New York Times today:

“The nation’s two largest clinical laboratories, Quest Diagnostics and LabCorp, normally bitter rivals, are joining with French researchers to pool their data to better interpret mutations in the two main breast cancer risk genes, known as BRCA1 and BRCA2. Other companies and laboratories are being invited to join the effort, called BRCA Share.”

While the Times report raised questions about the problems associated with doing too much testing and the confusion and worry that might result from lack of adequate information, Gil said having more people with better knowledge of their health was critical.

“It’s incredibly important to get this right,” he said.

For many women, that is indeed true.

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