Doorstep DNA - Following the Supply Chain of Genetic Testing

    Posted by Heather Smith on Nov 1, 2019 10:00:00 AM


    Cutting-edge transportation and logistics software helps the direct-to-consumer genetic testing industry ensure reliable results.

    Am I one-eighth Irish or one-quarter Japanese? Do I have a second cousin living in London I’ve never known about? Which diseases am I genetically at risk of developing? These are the questions millions of consumers across the globe are asking — and the answers are now within reach.

    Direct-to-consumer genetic testing first entered the market with 23andMe in 2007. After the initial rush of excitement, the hype slowly faded due to a string of regulatory implications. But 23andMe bounced back beginning in 2015, thanks, in large part, to an expanded suite of services bearing the FDA seal of approval.

    Several other direct-to-consumer genetic testing companies have since emerged to tap into this lightening hot market, the most notable of which is Ancestry. Together, these companies are projected to grow the industry to a record $340 million by 2022.

    So, how do these organizations go about delivering their genetic testing kits to a global consumer base and, more importantly, how do they get them back for evaluation? It turns out 23andMe and Ancestry rely on highly detailed transportation distribution and logistics plans to keep their customers satisfied.

    Ensuring the Safety and Security of Precious Cargo

    While shipping and receiving a DNA sample (typically saliva) doesn’t warrant the bubble wrap and packing peanuts a fine set of dishware might, the process still requires the utmost attention to detail. A DNA sample contains highly personal, sensitive consumer information — one misstep in transportation distribution and logistics and a company’s entire reputation is on the line.

    Let’s use 23andMe as an example of how a leading genetic testing company leverages a sophisticated warehouse management system (WMS) to get their products from A (warehouse) to B (consumers) to C (testing lab) — a process known as reverse logistics. To start, 23andMe sends consumers’ DNA test kits directly to their doorsteps within one to two days after their initial order has been placed. Each of these kits comes equipped with a small saliva collection tube, plastic specimen bag, and a prepaid return shipping label.

    Aside from providing the necessary sample, the most important part of the process is registration. 23andMe relies on a WMS barcode system to equip each collection tube with a unique 14-digit barcode. Before submitting their samples, consumers must create a 23andMe user profile and register their barcode within their online account. These 14 digits are then used to track the tubes once they return to the lab. At the lab, 23andMe’s researchers evaluate each consumer’s sample and then submit the results to the user’s password-protected and barcode-connected account. Leveraging this level of traceable transportation logistics software allows 23andMe to provide their more than 26 million consumers with precise, secure, and reliable results.

    In conjunction with the WMS barcode system, the company relies on in-depth inventory management systems to ensure the safe storage and rotation of their test kits. These dynamic, technology-driven systems also help 23andMe manage their inventory, so they can prepare for spikes in sales during the holidays and get ahead of projected lulls.

    An Expanding Supply Chain

    While most direct-to-consumer genetic testing companies began by selling their wares directly from their own online platforms, many have branched out to new marketplaces. You can now find DNA test kits everywhere from Amazon to CVS, Target to Walgreens, and even at select Sam’s Clubs or Best Buys.

    By expanding access to their DNA kits, brands like 23andMe and Ancestry are welcoming more and more new customers and improving their reliability as a result. That’s because these companies rely heavily on a “network effect” for success, meaning the more users’ DNA they have in their database, the more effective they are in connecting relatives and creating ancestry estimates.

    But while the benefits of expanding to new marketplaces are many, it’s important for these companies to remain aware of potential medical device supply chain challenges. That means working with retailers that rely on trusted warehouse management systems and data-driven transportation logistics software to ensure supplies are kept up-to-date and kits arrive — and return — in mint condition.

    With the right systems and tools in place, medical device companies — and their retailers — can rest assured that sensitive equipment is handled in accordance with all supply chain best practices. This way, consumers can continue to rely on companies like 23andMe and Ancestry to protect their sensitive personal information and provide valuable genetic results.

    Topics: Distribution & Logistics, Warehouse Management Systems (WMS), supply chain solutions