Wamberg Genomic Advisors is trying to create a new revenue stream for DNA testing labs, insurers and brokers — and easier access to testing services that could help some people who have tumors beat their tumors.
The La Jolla, California-based company has an idea: sell insurance that can pay for tumor DNA profiling services, and related services, if the insureds develop tumors.
Tom Wamberg, the company’s chief executive officer, talked about his company during a recent interview in New York. Wamberg attended a LIMRA conference in an effort to persuade life insurers to add the company’s Cancer Guardian service package as a standard or add-on feature.
“This is a tidal wave that’s coming,” Wamberg said.
Here are seven things to know about Wamberg and the Cancer Guardian service.
1. Wamberg has serious insurance industry experience.
From 1984 through 1987, Wamberg was the founder and chief executive officer of American Benefits Corp.
Later, he was a visible player in the executive benefits industry, as executive vice president of the Clark/Bardes Organization from 1984 through 1985, and as the CEO and chairman of Clark Consulting from 1995 through 2007.
For years he was one of the authorities on topics such as corporate-owned life insurance and executive retirement arrangements.
He started Wamberg Genomic Advisors in 2017.
2. Wamberg Genomic Advisors is like a distributor for DNA testing labs.
Manufacturers have been selling commercial DNA sequencing systems since 1992. The machines read the strings of “nucleotides,” or genetic information bits, on chromosomes. Chromosomes are the tiny threads inside our cells that store our genetic information. Chromosomes carry the operating systems and apps that make our bodies work.
The labs that use the DNA sequencing systems now offer about 70,000 different genetic tests. Many of the labs have to struggle to find paying clients.
Potential users of DNA sequencing services may have no idea what DNA sequencing is, let alone what they could do with the results from DNA sequencing.
Wamberg Genomic Advisors aims to match labs with tests of interest to insurers with insurers.
“We speak insurance and we speak genomics,” Tom Wamberg said.
3. The sequencing tests themselves are medium-expensive.
One comprehensive genomic profiling test for a cancer patient can cost about $5,800 to $10,000, according to the Wamberg Genomic Advisors data.
4. The Wamberg Genomic Advisors Cancer Guardian employee benefit product costs about $8 to $19 per employee per month.
The package includes access to a tumor DNA profiling service, advice from a nurse counselor, and access to a medical record storage system that can handle radiological images and other, complicated image files.
5. Health insurers are not a great market for the tumor profile product.
Some health insurers already cover some tumor profiling services for some patients, but just what services they will cover, and for whom, is unpredictable, and they are not flocking to Wamberg Genomic Advisors to add that company’s product as a standard or optional benefit.
One reason is the cost of the product.
Another is that tumor profiling is still new, and researchers are still looking at which patients can benefit from tumor profiling.
In August, for example, researchers working at Yale found that tumor profiling had no clear effect on mortality rates for 5,688 patients with non-small cell lung cancer who received either narrow or broad tumor profiling. Those researchers and reviewers suggested that the reason for the disappointing results might have been the lack of drugs that physicians could use to treat patients with specific genetic mutations. New drugs aimed at cancers linked to some of the mutations found were introduced after the study was completed.
Tumor profiling implies a need for treatment changes about 25% to 30% of the time, and it might imply a need for use of very expensive treatments about 5% of the time, Tom Wamberg said.
Health insurers may not be eager to promote tests that could lead to an increase in the number of very large cancer treatment claims, Wamberg said.
6. Life insurers, brokers and employers could be good markets for tumor profile test benefits.
Tom Wamberg said the product could be especially appealing to life insurers, because cancer leads to about one-third of life insurance death claims.
7. Some companies are already setting up tumor profile test distribution programs and benefit plans.
Wamberg Genomic Advisors has announced a number of major alliances in the past year.
LifeMark Partners, an independent national insurance marketing organization, has started off by offering a complimentary profile benefits program to its partner brokerage general agencies.
Under the terms of the program, 250,000 people who buy life insurance through the BGAs have been getting one free year of Cancer Guardian program membership. The program has also offered discounted program memberships to 2 million of the BGAs’ existing life insurance policyholders.
National Benefit Partners has agreed to distribute the Cancer Guardian program as an employee benefit.
In the fall, 27 employers had added or were in the process of adding tumor profile test benefits programs, Tom Wamberg said.
A life insurer, the Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company, began providing the Cancer Guardian program to its own employees, and the employees’ spouses and dependents, in October.
— Read Share Your DNA, Get Shares, on ThinkAdvisor.