Why a former Under Armour executive just joined a company that wants to become the app store of genetics

Robin Thurston headshotHelixRobin Thurston

A company that wants to become a central point to store your genetic information just recruited a former UnderArmour executive as its CEO.

Helix launched in August 2015 with $100 million in funding from Illumina and other partners. It’s planning on getting its consumer product ready to launch by the end of 2016.

As part of that process, it’s brought on Robin Thurston, who co-founded the MapMyFitness platform that works as a fitness tracker to track your runs, walks, rides, etc. MapMyFitness was acquired by UnderArmour back in 2013, at which point Thurston became the company’s chief digital officer.

Thurston spent the past 10 years working on MapMyFitness. “Going back to a startup was something I wanted to do,” Thurston told Business Insider.

Helix seemed like a good fit, where he could help the company build a consumer-facing platform that would act like an “app store” of your genetic code.

Every time you do a DNA test, parts of your same genes are just getting sequenced again and again. Helix wants to cut out that physical step.

Instead of sending your spit 10 different places for 10 different tests, you could just let companies access your fully-sequenced genome. That way, companies could just develop the apps that analyse your genetic code to give you the insights you’re looking for (where does your family come from, or do you have a mutation that predisposes you to a certain cancer) without the cost of developing a lab.

“Throughout life, you’re using it in different places,” he said. For example, someone might start out using an app that helps them outline their family history. Then, if that person is confronted with a medical situation in which their DNA could come in handy, they can download another app powered by Helix that will run his or her already-sequenced DNA and spit out the analysis that’s now relevant. “It’s a single source for the full genome. The access would be immediately rather than being-tested.”

Although Thurston’s background is working with a fitness app, he said the experience that’s coming with him into this new will be more about the platform than it will be the fitness focus, since that’s just one area that genetics can play a role.

Creating a platform full of Helix-powered apps that you check on a regular basis is no small feat. From your ancestry to what genes you might pass down to your children, the gravity of the information your genes carry can completely vary. “How do you make the whole category a little more fun?” Thurston said. “How do you make it more accessible to average consumer rather than being too curated and dry? It’s definitely going to be a balance.”

Over the next few months, Helix might be able to show us what that looks like.

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