genomeweb1

Life Insurance Firm GWG Incorporates Epigenetic Mortality Predictor into Underwriting

Today, GenomeWeb published a report that as scientists discover more and more molecular biomarkers that can predict an individual’s disease and mortality risk, the results are not only applicable in personalized medicine but are also making their way into a new marketplace: the life insurance industry.

Earlier this month, GWG Life, a company focusing on the secondary life insurance market, said it had begun collecting saliva samples and analyzing epigenetic biomarkers, developed by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, in potential customers as part of its underwriting process. The Minneapolis-based company, which was founded in 2006, said this makes it the first “insurtech” firm — a company that uses innovative technology to improve the accuracy and efficiency of insurance pricing — to apply DNA methylation testing to life insurance underwriting.

And reported that:

Biotech companies have also begun taking an interest in life insurance. For example, San Diego’s Human Longevity, which was cofounded by Craig Venter, last year hired a president for its insurance and corporate business group who has expertise in the life insurance industry, and Venter has been presenting the company’s research at various meetings of insurance or actuary professional organizations. Also, several firms focusing on telomere research have expressed an interest in the life insurance market in the past.

I have been consistent that while there is a lot of excitement around how technology promises to improve the insurance industry, we don’t see companies translating new cutting-edge technologies into commercial applications that go to the very heart of these products and services. It’s self evident that the life insurance industry will undergo  pretty radical change in the future.

I am very pleased that this article distinguished the fact that epigenetics is different from genetics because “methylation markers can change over time in response to life style or the environment, rather than being etched into the DNA from birth, making them more similar to other medical tests that are already used as part of underwriting.”  This is important for people to understand, and its why epigenetics is the the most relevant science to assess health and wellness.  You are not going to pick up the fact that you have been exposed to heavy metals your entire adult life with a genetic test, but you will with an epigenetic test.  That’s the difference.  Epigenetic testing and machine learning could offer several improvements to traditional underwriting which enable life insurance carrier to provide a more refined view of life span will enable products to be more accurately priced.