SME Spotlight

Wellness solutions suited to your DNA

Innovation is driving change in the healthcare industry. In the first of a four-part series, Imagene Labs managing director Wong Mun Yew tells Wong Siew Ying how affordable DNA tests have spurred demand for 'personalised' wellness solutions, including bespoke skincare products, as well as nutrition and fitness programmes.

Dr Wong of Imagene Labs says healthcare has always been very resilient to economic cycles. "Whether it's up or down cycle, people still need to look after their health."
Dr Wong of Imagene Labs says healthcare has always been very resilient to economic cycles. "Whether it's up or down cycle, people still need to look after their health." PHOTO: DON WONG FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Q How did the firm chance upon the concept of "personalised wellness"?

A Imagene Labs, which is a subsidiary of Asia Genomics, was launched in September with the idea of offering bespoke wellness solutions and products for the individual based on their unique genetic make-up.

Genetics has been around for more than 10 years, since the first human genome was sequenced in 2003. A lot of scientific work and research has been done in the clinical and medical fields, but I think DNA-based wellness is an area that is starting to catch up.

As the cost of testing comes down and consumers become more health conscious, I believe there is a gap in the market for such services. If you can tailor your shirt and even your shoes, why can't you tailor wellness solutions?

Q What tests are available and how are they used to customise products?

A Three types of tests are offered under the brand ori. These are oriSKIN, oriVIT and oriFIT, which are designed to search for genetic markers that influence a person's skin, nutrition and fitness disposition.

The oriSKIN test kit, for example, targets 10 skin traits covering 26 genes. These traits include collagen breakdown, dryness, antioxidant deficiency and sensitivity to sun.

Let's say the test results show a person has a high rate of collagen breakdown - this affects skin elasticity. So, our counsellors and experts can offer recommendations - dietary or lifestyle changes - that will help to address that issue.

We can also customise facial serums to address potential skin concerns.

Similarly, users of oriVIT can buy supplements tailored to their body's needs, and oriFIT users can participate in programmes at our partner fitness centres.

Q How are these tests conducted and how much do they cost?

A After customers sign up for a test, which can be done via our website, a test kit will be sent to them. This is essentially to collect their saliva samples. It's simple and non-invasive.

A courier will pick up the sample from the customer and the test results will be generated in about two weeks, after which a report with easy-to-follow recommendations will be sent to the individual.

The price for a single test is $249. The cost varies and could go up to $609 if the person does all three tests and opts to purchase bespoke skincare products and vitamins.

One of our aims is to have the customers continue to order these bespoke products from us through our e-commerce channel.

Q What is the typical customer profile for such services?

A Generally, they tend to be younger, they are the millennials. We see more of them being interested in DNA testing. They are motivated to be healthy and want to be healthier.

We are going to launch another three tests by the second quarter of next year that will allow us to broaden our customer base all the way from the young to the old. They are in the area of wellness, but I am unable to share any further details now.

In the first quarter of next year, we will also introduce two mobile and Web apps with artificial intelligence deep learning technology where people can track improvements in their health and wellness.

Q What are the potential prospects in the personalised wellness market?

A The DNA testing and product customisation business market size is probably not available now. However, based on a UBS report, it's said the consumer genetic testing market could be valued at US$5 billion (S$7 billion) in a couple of years.

More importantly, the wellness market itself - it includes everything from beauty to anti-ageing and nutrition - is a US$3 trillion market, according to a Global Wellness Institute report in 2014. It is a huge market and one that we are tapping into.

Singapore being an open economy and having the advances in science and healthcare can certainly play a leading role in this area.

Q What is the outlook for this business segment amid uncertainties over global growth?

A Healthcare has always been very resilient to economic cycles. Whether it's up or down cycle, people still need to look after their health.

With a growing middle class, be it in Singapore, China, Thailand or Indonesia, I think more people will be able to spend more on healthcare and wellness. They will be a key demand driver.

There is also a rising interest in self-tracking, called quantified health.

Consumers are becoming more health conscious, they want to know how many steps they've taken, how much exercise they've done or how much they ate.

Q What are the expansion plans for Imagene Labs?

A We entered the Malaysian market in October, and by the second quarter of next year we will be in China and four more Asean countries: Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines.

Early next year, we will open a lab in China - our second lab, after the one in Singapore.

Our vision is to build a pan-Asian business.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 07, 2016, with the headline Wellness solutions suited to your DNA. Subscribe