Human Longevity Launches Whole Genome Product, MassMutual Partnerships

March 20, 2017

By Allison Proffitt 

March 20, 2017 | Last week, Human Longevity, Inc. and Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Co. announced an agreement to offer HLI's new whole genome sequencing product, HLIQ Whole Genome, to eligible MassMutual customers, employees, and financial professionals at a reduced price. 

HLIQ Whole Genome is a sequencing test ordered by a physician. It requires a blood draw in a physician’s office, then clients and their doctors receive a genome report electronically. The client receives their entire genome in a printable poster format. The list price on test is $2,500, but HLI spokesperson Heather Kowalski says that they test is only being offered through business partnerships, of which the agreement with MassMutual is the first.

Healthy individuals are the intended customer of the HLIQ Whole Genome test. “Don’t wait for symptoms to start fighting disease,” the brochure reads.

The HLIQ Whole Genome report includes a “medically significant” section with findings on over 250 rare conditions or health risks; rare types of heart disease, metabolic, neurologic, immune and other conditions; insight on predisposition to certain types of cancer; and pharmacogenomic data for more than 50 drugs. HLI returns findings on The American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics’ (ACMG) recommended list of 59 actionable genes.

In addition, the report has a Personal Insights section returning findings on ancestry, allergies, and food intolerances; and a Traits section with eye color, skin color, and height predictions.

Moving Target

All data will also be incorporated into HLI’s Knowledgebase, its growing genomic database that was recognized as a Bio-IT World Best Practices winner last year. Today the company says the database has approximately 40,000 genomes and related phenotypic data.

Last April, HLI  reported that its Knowledgebase contained about 25,000 whole genomes, and the company was committed to sequencing 1 million genomes by 2020. Now Kowalski says they may not need 1 million records.

“We are on target [to achieve 1 million genomes by 2020], but we are no longer sure if we need the database to have a million genomes… we’ve already saturated a lot of rare and unknown variants,” she told Bio-IT World via email. “That was our goal when the company was founded but as you know a lot happens in 2.5 years in genomics and computing.”

For example, earlier this month researchers from HLI published results from the largest whole genome sequencing and analysis of blood metabolites. In work published in Nature Genetics (doi:10.1038/ng.3809), the team linked 101 new sites in the genome to 246 metabolites and uncovered 90 rare variants that led to abnormal blood levels of certain metabolites. The work extends the known world of loci affecting the metabolome and highlights the surprising fact that there are more rare variants associated with abnormal blood metabolic phenotypes in adults than previously thought, the researchers said.

Research like this requires integrating standardized, longitudinal phenotypic records, something that has always been HLI’s goal. The company’s first product was Health Nucleus, a brick and mortar facility offering genome sequencing paired with extensive other imaging and tests to “delve deep into your personal health” for $25,000.

The company also has agreements in place with pharma companies, academic centers, and other groups, all of which contribute data to the database. HLI hopes to contribute 200,000 whole genomes specifically through the HLIQ Whole Genome product.

First Mover

The agreement with MassMutual is not HLI’s first partnership with an insurance firm. In September 2015, HLI signed an agreement with Discovery Ltd, an insurer based in South Africa, to offer whole exome sequencing and analysis to Discovery’s clients in South Africa and the United Kingdom.

A partnership with a life insurance firm is a logical collaboration, Kowalski said. “You and your life insurance company are motivated by the same thing—you both want you to live a long time.”

Mass mutual, she said, is simply a first mover among what she hope will eventually be a large pool of life insurance companies, hospitals, and other organizations. “MassMutual is a first mover and was the first company to be innovative enough to see the value of offering a complete whole genome as another important tool in the medical/health arsenal to help motivate and inform health decisions,” Kowalski wrote.

For MassMutual, the incentives are altruistic, said Michael McNamara, a MassMutual spokesperson. 

“Financial and physical health are two important, inextricably linked components of individual well-being.  By facilitating the addition of genomes to the HLI database, MassMutual can play a role in helping researchers seek much needed cures and treatments to current and future diseases,” McNamara told Bio-IT World by email. “This agreement brings the opportunity for MassMutual customers, employees, and financial professionals to potentially help not only themselves but the broader community—both today and in the future—realize the benefits of a long and healthy life.”

To sign up for the discounted rate—$1,400 for MassMutual customers compared to $2,500 retail—MassMutual customers, employees, and financial professionals complete a form on the MassMutual website asking for first and last name, email, phone, and mailing address. MassMutual passes the contact information on to HLI. (On the HLI website anyone associated with MassMutual is directed back to the MassMutual website and form.)

MassMutual verifies that an individual is eligible to participate and has consented to having their contact details shared with HLI before it passes them on. Participants must be policy owners, insureds, annuity contract holders, and annuitants of MassMutual as of March 14, 2017; career-contracted advisors, and current full- and part-time employees of MassMutual. All participants must be 18 years of age or over, and the test cannot be offered to residents of the state of New York.

HLI's data security standards are designed to fully protect client data, the company says. Both MassMutual and HLI emphasize that MassMutual will not receive from HLI any data, including genomic data, on these policy owners, customers, employees, or financial professionals. MassMutual does not pay for or otherwise subsidize the cost of sequencing.

On the MassMutual site, the disclaimer reads: “MassMutual will not receive any of your genetic information, or other health or personal information, from HLI; nor will MassMutual request such information from HLI, in connection with current or future coverage or employment determinations, or otherwise. MassMutual may revise and update the terms of this program from time to time.” (Emphasis theirs)

McNamara further clarified MassMutual’s position, emphasizing that the contact form only request more information and does not indicate that an individual will take part.

“Importantly, MassMutual will neither receive nor request any genetic information, or other health or personal information, from HLI; nor will MassMutual obtain from HLI information concerning the identities of the participants,” he said. “The only information MassMutual will receive from HLI will be the total number of eligible participants who submitted their information and had their genome sequenced through HLI.”

Editor's note:  Additional comments were added from Michael McNamara in the final section of the story, further clarifying how MassMutual might interact with data.