UK-based FitnessGenes gets $5M for DNA-driven nutrition and exercise coaching platform

By Heather Mack
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London-based FitnessGenes, which creates personalized fitness and nutrition plans for individuals based on a the results of an at-home DNA testing kit, has raised $5 million. Sino-German High Tech Fund (SGHF), an investment fund comprised of China’s Donghai Securities and Germany’s Grunderfonds, led the round.

FitnessGenes positions its product as a means of figuring out which specific diet plan and exercise regimen works best for an individual based on their genetic makeup. Users provide a saliva sample and send it to FitnessGenes’ UK laboratory, where it will be analyzed for specific genes that reportedly have an effect on the body’s ability to build muscle, burn fat and improve aerobic performance, among other things (although the testing gets more into the weeds than that by analyzing genes for eye color, under the assumption that the production of melanin could impact whether someone is deficient in vitamin D). Based on their genetic makeup and fitness goals, users are prompted to purchase a specific test and coaching plans ranging from simple DNA analysis ($150) to muscle-building plans (up to $337).

The company – which was founded by doctors from the University of Oxford and Birmingham in 2013 and also operates under the name MuscleGenes – is working to add another $5 million in funding to close out the Series A and plans to use the capital to advance their platform and product offering as well as expand operations in North America and Europe.

“We are delighted to have this vote of confidence from the team at SGHF so we can continue to build the world’s most personalized fitness and nutrition platform,” FitnessGenes CEO and cofounder Dr. Dan Reardon said in a statement. “Our mission is to bring transformation to millions of customers around the world who are overwhelmed and confused by the amount of choice and generic recommendations on the market.”

FitnessGenes has also received funding from Innovate UK, the UK government’s innovation agency, and counts itself along genetic sequencing giant Illumina’s consortia of consumer genomics companies like 23andMe to bring genotyping into healthcare, translational research and consumer genomics.

“We highly agree with FitnessGenes’ understanding of how genetic science will change our life and are impressed with the company's innovation in the practice of applying genetics and technology to fitness and nutrition,” SGHF Managing Director Alex Liu said in a statement. “We look forward to working with the experienced and innovative management team to help scale FitnessGenes.”

While consumer genomics is still in its early days – and it’s still not fully known how effective genetic-based fitness and nutrition advice is – interest in the category among consumers, researchers and investors is growing fast. FitnessGenes is part of a research project at the Loughborough University investigating whether weight gain is accelerated by the so-called obesity gene FTO. DNAFit, a London-based genomics company, has an offering similar to FitnessGenes that consists of an online training platform that incorporates genetic information to create personalized workout plans. Toronto-based Newtopia also offers coaching and health management plans based on DNA testing, and just raised $10 million in October 2016. Habit, a personalized nutrition service that is yet to launch, got $32 million from Campbell’s Soup last year.

In fact, genomics as a whole has risen high on the lists of top investment interest areas – Rock Health tracked it as the most funded category in digital health for 2016. It’s the focus of entire new VC firms or funds, such as the Seattle-based Biomatics Capital that recently sprung up with $200 million and a heavy focus on genomics and digital health.