On March 21 of 2014, a San Diego–based company named Gateway Genomics applied for incorporation in Delaware. Ten days later, the company filed for a trademark for its product, called SneakPeek.
I found that “SneakPeek” describes the company itself, not just its product. It is extremely difficult to sneak a peek at Gateway Genomics, even after days of sleuthing. The company is being sued for deceptive trade practices, violation of consumer laws, unjust enrichment, violations of the California business code, and other sins. According to the suit, filed December 29 in federal court, Gateway Genomics has set up elaborate roadblocks to make sure unhappy customers can’t get their money back easily or complain on the company’s Facebook page.
Others can’t get to the company either, I found out.
Gateway, under the brand SneakPeek, peddles a home prenatal gender test that permits a woman, only nine weeks pregnant, to predetermine the sex of her baby by pricking her finger, getting a slight amount of blood, and sending it to a laboratory. She allegedly gets her answer in five to seven days for $79 and within 72 hours through the FastTrack option for $149, according to the company’s promotions.
Normally, a baby’s early gender predetermination may require a large amount of blood that a phlebotomist draws via needle. SneakPeek is a breakthrough, bragged Gateway in August of last year at a meeting of the International Society for Prenatal Diagnosis. (Gateway is not a member of the organization, which says it knows nothing about the company, other than that it made a presentation.) Gateway says its researchers have discovered a new source of fetal DNA circulating inside the mother’s bloodstream that is available in a pinprick’s worth of blood.
Gateway advertises that SneakPeek is 99 percent accurate. Oops. Read carefully. There is a tiny asterisk next to that 99 percent claim. The asterisk directs one to FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions). There one will find these words: “(Note:…It is normal for some pregnant females not to have a large amount of fetal DNA circulating in their blood.)”
Hmmm. Does this mean that SneakPeek is 99 percent accurate only for women who have a large amount of fetal DNA circulating in their blood? If so, what is the percentage of accuracy for all pregnant women? (For some reason, the lawsuit does not get into this possibly damning Frequently Asked Questions hedge, and the law firm, Los Angeles–based Kristensen Weisberg, would not answer my questions.)
The lawsuit states, “The results are not 99 percent accurate but much closer to a flip of a coin.” The suit quotes women saying that the test is only 60 percent accurate. The suit also says that Gateway has said on other occasions that the test is 94.8 percent accurate if the unborn child will be a girl and 98.8 percent if it will be a boy.
According to the suit, a putative class action, one group of women has a Facebook site called “SP Sucks.” These women state that SneakPeek got so many negative reviews online that it had to stop selling its product on Amazon. It appears to be back on Amazon, but Amazon did not answer my questions.
The plaintiff is an Ohio woman who allegedly paid $169 for the FastTrack test last year. She was promised that the test could determine the sex of her unborn child before any sonogram could do so. A few days after she sent in her blood sample, she was told by email, “Your SneakPeek Results Are In! Congratulations. You are having a baby girl!” She gave birth to a boy. Others tell a similar story, according to the suit.
“SCAM SCAM SCAM,” says one mother.
Says another woman, “Don’t try to write anything on their Facebook page because they will BLOCK you.”
Gateway/SneakPeek certainly has set up a wall that blocks people from getting information. The company has been incorporated for almost two years, but it is not listed in the directory of the San Diego Biotechnology Network.
CONNECT, the San Diego organization that spurs innovation and is greatly supported by and very close to the biotech community, has never heard of Gateway Genomics or SneakPeek. Claire Bula, senior director of marketing and communications, was helpful in my search for the company. “We don’t know anything about them, nor have we had any contact with them,” she says. She adds, “They likely don’t want to be found,” and Steve Hoey, another top CONNECT official, agrees.
The company is not listed with the California secretary of state, although firms doing repeated intrastate business are supposed to register. Directory assistance has no phone number for the company.
Gateway has sent out news releases listing Laura Hart as the public relations specialist. But the telephone number Gateway lists for her goes to a recorded pitch for SneakPeek. The company gives an email address: [email protected] I emailed several times asking for basic information. I got none but was told that “the company stands behind its product” but doesn’t discuss pending litigation. I sent another email asking if the company sells into the sex-selection abortion market. I got no response.
The recorded pitch for SneakPeek also provides an email address to get in contact with a sales representative. I emailed several messages, saying I wanted basic information about Gateway — its founders, chief executive, phone number. I got no response.
I called Jordan Bolton, who supposedly does graphic design work for Gateway. He refused to tell me anything about the company. I emailed Maggie Yamin, supposedly the project coordinator for new business development of Gateway, and didn’t hear back.
I called Paul Amon, San Diego lawyer who handled the legal work on the trademark. He would give me no information, citing attorney-client privilege. I emailed him some questions, which he sent on to the company. When I called him back to see why I had heard nothing from Gateway, he said, “Honestly, I would recommend that they don’t answer you because of the ongoing litigation.” I have not received answers.
Through an intermediary, I got a LinkedIn message to Laura Hart, the public relations and marketing project coordinator at Gateway. I asked for basic information and, hardly to my surprise, heard nothing.
It looks like another biotech scandal lurks. On December 30, Pathway Genomics, another testing company, agreed to pay the federal government $4 million for paying kickbacks to physicians. Several years ago, Sequenom, which does prenatal testing, was ordered to stop giving false information on the success of a test for Down syndrome.