Advanx Health is a health and wellness company that combines a data-driven approach with a human centric design to help people tackle the most persistent health challenges. In this interview, co-founder and Business Operations Manager John Yeo Keh Hau describes the benefits of combined genetic and lifestyle testing for building personalized diet and fitness plans that actually work.
Please describe the story behind Advanx Health: What sparked the idea, and how has it evolved so far?
Advanx Health started as a reseller and distributor of DNA test kits. We wanted to test the market and determine its potential, so we partnered with a Singapore company to distribute their test kits in Malaysia. In the meanwhile, we did a lot of business planning and in June 2018, we launched our platform.
For the next couple of months, we targeted pharmacy chains, companies, and individuals for that screening. Towards the end of that year, we partnered with a local genetics supplier who supported us with the upstream services.
It took us a few months to reorganize our platform and make it suitable for the new lab. In April 2019, we launched a new set of reports with a more extensive range. That was when we started seeing more positive traction.
We started competing on international platforms like Accenture Innovation Challenge in Japan and Rise in Hong Kong. We got some exposure and had very good revenue and sales. We raised funds and established our lab at the Malaysian Technology University (UTM).
We expanded our team, and just when we were about to go ahead with all our plans, COVID had burst into our lives. Enduring 2020 was tough because as a small lab, we were not able to reposition ourselves as a Covid testing lab. We had a few opportunities but things didn’t go smoothly because of the frequent policy changes.
Thankfully, we already had a resilient team by then, and were able to pivot ourselves to fit with the need of the hour.
We started our FindMyTest platform, a directory where people can find out where they can get tested for COVID. That was very valuable in the early stage of the outbreak because a lot of people were looking for this information.
Then, we built another platform called MyScreening, an eCommerce site that sells self-test kits. It has become the second-largest revenue stream for our company.
In 2021, we launched a few more products. We have several wellness panels including nutrigenomics, skin genetics, fitness, and sexual health. We have Carrier, a relatively new innovative product that tests the compatibility of expecting parents. Finally, we also collaborate with Roche diagnostics to provide non invasive prenatal testing (NIPT), and the Malaysian Genomics Research Center (MGRC) for cancer panel.
To make things easier for our customers, especially during Covid, we offer at-home testing. You can book a test session and we’ll come to your home to sample your blood. After the analysis, you’ll see the results on your Advanx Health user dashboard.
While some test providers offer complex, detailed reports, others oversimplify the results. How do you balance this equation?
We have a very good balance between scientists and laymen in our team. We want to make our reports as scientifically accurate as possible, but also simple enough for laymen to understand. We have an interdisciplinary team, comprising members with and without scientific background, that write and proofread the copy of the reports to ensure they provide value to both segments.
In addition, we score our references to let customers know how confident we are about them, on a scale of 1-5. If the score is high, it means we are confident that the reference is from a reliable, relevant, up-to-date source. A low score could indicate that the evidence is still at an early stage, or it might be based on small-scale research. Another reason might be that the referenced source does not reflect your population.
We try to be as straightforward as possible, while also providing information that empowers our customers to explore further. If they still need help understanding their results, we offer complimentary sessions with our health consultants to go through the reports with them.
So, what would you say is the role of AI in all this?
We use our AI more on the health recommendations side rather than the reporting, because reporting is very straightforward. If you have variation A, then you’re categorized into one group of people. If you have variation B, you’re in another group. But if you have 200 results on your test report, you want to be able to make sense of it based on your particular combination. That’s where our machine learning algorithm comes in with health recommendations that are specific for your condition and genetic makeup.
Our recommendations will tell you what sort of supplements, exercise and diet approaches you might want to consider. We have seven-day diet and fitness plans as well as daily calorie intake recommendations based on your health goals and your current health condition.
Currently, most of the diet plans on the market are quite rigid. They tell you exactly what you should eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with very little room for flexibility. Contrarily, all of our diet plans include a list of alternative diet recommendations, based on what we call the Nutrition Exchange System. For example, if your diet plan says you should eat bananas twice a week, but you couldn’t find bananas in your local store, you can go into Advanx Health and see what you can exchange for that banana so you get an equivalent amount of nutrients.
The third component where we use AI is our fitness recommendations. Advanx Health will tell you what sort of exercise would be most effective for you, based on your genetic profile and your current physical status.
Your genetic makeup is like a blueprint. It’s always there and it doesn’t change, but it doesn’t tell you the current health condition you’re in. By combining genetic data with standard blood tests, we get a clearer picture of your health status and can give you better recommendations.
What kind of audience are you targeting?
We generally target healthy consumers because we believe we can provide a lot more value to that segment. There’s no point telling people that they have a genetic predisposition to a disease if the disease has already kicked in. Advanx Health is more about risk detection and prevention. Of course, some people might have a certain condition they want to resolve and they come to us because they want to know what their personalized solution is.
For example, a lot of users come to us looking for weight management solutions. They have tried the typical traditional methods and decided to come to us because they want a more personalized solution that will work for them. They understand that each person is different and they want to find a plan that they can follow and finally achieve their goals. At the end of the day, it’s not about us telling you what you should or shouldn’t eat. It’s about your ability to make lifestyle changes and follow them through.
What do you do with the data that you collect?
We collect user data exclusively for internal analysis, so we can improve our algorithm and our reports. Every year, we update our risk scoring based on the new data that comes in. Other than that, we do not have any other usage for personal information. We keep it secure by following ISO information security guidelines, and will never share it with third parties.
How do you see this unfolding in the future?
Moving forward, with the help of science and data, we want to further improve our prediction capability and make it more precise.
Once you know that you have the risk, preventing it is another challenge. We hope to tap into a more vibrant, dynamic ecosystem of healthcare providers that advocate a more proactive approach to health and well being. Ultimately, our goal is to help users adopt necessary behavioral changes based on their individual condition so that even if they have a high risk for a particular disease, they would be able to prevent it altogether by following our recommendations.