A genetics company founded by former Twitter execs just raised another $45 million

What’s inside a Colour Genomics testing kit. Courtesy Colour Genomics

Colour Genomics, a genetics testing company that for $249 wants to tell you if you have the genetic mutations that could predispose you to certain types of cancer, just raised another $45 million to help it get its tests into more people’s hands.

The series B round is led by General Catalyst. Colour previously raised $15 million — bringing the total raised to $60 million — from investors including Laurene Powell Jobs’ Emerson Collective, Khosla Ventures, and 8VC, who are all also participating in this funding round. Bono, of the band U2, is also investing in the new round.

Colour will also be adding Hemant Taneja, managing director at General Catalyst, and Susan Wagner, BlackRock co-founder, to its board.

Colour CEO and co-founder Elad Gil told Business Insider that General Catalyst was a good fit for the round because of its expertise in apps like Snapchat and Stripe, as well with medical diagnostic startups. “They cover both sides of the spectrum,” he said.

That mix is something that Colour’s known for, too: Gil and President Othman Laraki both worked at Twitter for a number of years.

Colour launched its test in April 2015 and now offers an updated test that looks at 30 genetic markers, or parts of our DNA that have been linked to certain conditions. These genes are linked with a higher risk of developing, breast, ovarian, colorectal, melanoma, uterine, pancreatic, prostate, and stomach cancer. (The company has a white paper explaining how they validated the accuracy of the test’s results using 500 samples, though none of the markers can predict a future diagnosis with any certainty; they only measure elevated risk)

Knowing what mutations you have is a key part of understanding your risk of getting certain types of cancer, a highly complex science that researchers are still teasing out. Lifestyle factors, like how often you exercise and what you eat, play a major role in your risk for cancer, but tests like those Colour offers look only at your genetic risks.

For example, the risk of getting breast cancer goes from 7% to an average of 55-65% when you have the BRCA1 or 2 gene mutation. Knowing you have one of these genetic tweaks, then, could ostensibly help you make more proactive decisions, like getting more frequent cancer screenings or eating healthier (though few cancer-related genetic risks are understood quite as well as the BRCA gene mutation).

For healthy people, getting genetic tests that are not required or suggested by your doctor does have some risks. Results can be worryingly ambiguous, and there can be false positives, leading to anxiety, stress, and even unnecessary interventions.

With the additional funding, Colour has a couple of things in the works: first, it’s offering $50 tests for people who have a direct family member with an inherited cancer gene mutation (regardless of whether that family member got his or her report through Colour or another genetic test). Gil said the hope is to provide these discounted tests to thousands of families. (While $50 is a deep discount, for women with a significant family history of breast cancer, the BRCA test and associated genetic counseling is actually something that insurers are required by the Affordable Care Act to cover.)

Colour’s also teaming up with the BRCA Foundation to launch a BRCA gene registry, so that people who have the BRCA mutations can opt in and be contacted for future research or clinical trials.

How a Colour test works:

  1. Call your doctor. Because it gives out some serious medical information, Colour requires that you have a physician involved. If you don’t want to include your own doctor, Colour will link you with an independent physician who’ll evaluate your information and assign you a test — if they decide it’s the right move. Either way, you or your doctor can order the test directly through Colour’s website.
  2. After registering online, you’ll get a testing kit in the mail.
  3. Collect your spit, like you would with many other genetics tests. It might feel a bit awkward.
  4. Send in your spit for Colour to analyse. They will return the results to you and your doctor.
  5. Still want to learn more? Colour provides a free genetics counselor to discuss your results further as part of its process.

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