DNA entrepreneur: You are too unique for wellness trends
You are unique. So unique, in fact, that the latest health and wellness trends have not worked for you.
That's the approach of entrepreneur Avi Lasarow as he sets out to bring genetic ‘wellness’ testing to the masses.
“There are health mantras that we are all exposed to - for example ‘eat five pieces of fruit and vegetables per day’, ‘get five hours of exercise per week’. While they might encourage us to be healthy, we are all different, so therefore they might not apply in the same way,” he tells BusinessCloud.
Lasarow founded London firm DNAfit in 2013 in the hope of using genetic science and technology to help people live longer through personalised plans.
His latest venture follows a career in genetics, i-gaming, a yoga retreat, property, and then back to genetics. He said it has been ‘quite a journey’ through different sectors.
Now in his 40s, his career began in various technology management roles at financial giant CitiBank. After four years he left the firm as Assistant VP to start an online casino. “I didn’t know enough at the time about eCommerce or have enough funding to succeed,” he says.
His next career move was into genetics. He became managing director of ‘DNA relationship testing business’ DNA Bioscience before starting a venture which offered a commercialised hair test for alcohol and drugs.
That tech, created by Trimega Laboratories between 2005 and 2012, was adopted by the UK courts in child welfare cases, and by the German equivalent of the DVLA in cases of suspected drink-driving.
“When I sold the company after eight years of working on it, I almost felt as if I had lost my baby, as overnight it was in the hands of others,” he says.
Lasarow made another swift career change: he opened a yoga dome and farm retreat in his native South Africa.
He invested - and proceeded to lose money in - property, foreign currency trading and a FMCG business that also incorporated laboratory testing. All of this over the course of one year before realising his passion lay in life sciences.
He decided he wanted to make a difference in people’s lives, and medical technology was the best way to help. London firm DNAfit claims that with a single mouth swab, it can provide insights to consumers about their specific exercise and dietary needs.
It is “breaking down the misinformation in the lifestyle industry”, says Lasarow, and is “the most proven and validated test through the peer review process”.
It is now participating in the skyrocketing market of genetic testing, though the sector has seen a recent plateau after privacy concerns began to circulate. Some consumers were unsure where their DNA would end up.
US-based 23andMe, one of the largest genetic testing firms, laid off 14% of its staff after sales came in lower than expected, according to the LA Times last month.
“Your DNA is a valuable asset, so why give it to ancestry websites for free?” asked a Guardian column in February.
Lasarow says that ensuring consumer data was protected was a challenge, but something the firm takes seriously. “Here we have the company accredited to the international standard of ISO 27001, which raises the bar for the rest of the industry,” he says.
“It also makes sure that the highest standards are followed digitally and non-digitally in our process of security testing and our customers' data protection.”
He said that unlike ancestry testing, the firm also has a duty of care to responsibly interpret actionable results on behalf of the customer.
“We employ a team of degree educated dieticians, sports science folks and genetic councillors making sure that clients understand how to interpret their results in the context of their lifestyle,” he explains.
During a recent testimony at the UK Office of Science & Technology Committee on the industry, the firm called for regulation based on some of these early principles.
“We wanted to ensure DNAfit was the most accurate test it could be, and we are always striving to improve in this area, which is why we implemented as a standard for our latest test ‘CircleDNA’.”
In April 2018 the firm was acquired by Hong Kong based genetics company Prenetics. Lasarow continues to lead the business and is now CEO of Prenetics EMEA.
CircleDNA creates 500 personalised reports across 20 categories about genes.
“This process can be used to predict cancer risks, predict the onset of diabetes, and even predict the risk of two parents conceiving a child with a genetic disorder,” he claims.
He said the UK is fast becoming a ‘superpower’ and will lead upcoming genetics research which could be incorporated incorporated into all aspects and touchpoints of daily life.
“For hundreds of years we have been going to the doctors when we get ill, but with new genetic information and discovery we are shifting into the mentality of preventative health.
“We can predict and act on health issues before they grow, and our attitude will shift from ‘one drug fits all’ to one drug per person as this research continues. We are excited to be a part of it.”
Lasarow will be discussing the successes and learning curves of his entrepreneurial journey at the Festival of Enterprise, the UK’s largest fast-growth business event.