Human genome pioneer J. Craig Venter’s newest project seeks to ‘change the way medicine is practiced’ by creating genomic-based medicine model
With little fanfare or public notice, a start-up company in San Diego is busy sequencing the largest number of whole human genome sequences in the world. The knowledge expected to result from this effort promises to revolutionize healthcare, as well as clinical laboratory testing.
Human Longevity Inc. (HLI) is a genomics and cell therapy company that has assembled the largest human genome sequencing operation in the world. It’s goal is to use whole genome sequencing and cell-based therapeutics to redefine aging and “meaningfully extend the human lifespan.”
“HLI’s mission is to identify the therapeutically targetable mechanisms responsible for age-related human biological decline, and to apply this intelligence to develop innovative solutions to interrupt or block these processes, meaningfully extending the human lifespan,” HLI states on its website. “We are trying to tackle some of the most vexing diseases like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes … we are working to change the way medicine is practiced through our genomic-focused, preventive model.”
Venter Wants to Engineer Genes to Produce Fuel, Medicines, and More
The groundbreaking company is led by human genome pioneer J. Craig Venter, PhD. Back in the 1990s, while president and chief scientific officer at Celera Genomics, (before it became a subsidiary of Quest Diagnostics Incorporated [NYSE: DGX]), Venter completed the first-ever sequencing of a human genome (his own) in 2000. Venter now serves as chairman and CEO of San Diego-based Synthetic Genomics, which he co-founded in 2005 to engineer genes within organisms so they can produce fuel, chemicals, medicines, and nutritional products. He also heads the not-for-profit J. Craig Venter Institute.
HLI Chief Medical Director Brad Perkins, MD, MBA, who will speak at this month’s Executive War College, compared Venter in a New Republic article to a modern day Christopher Columbus. Perkins believes Venter’s exploration has the power to “invert the current paradigm in healthcare” from treating the sick to preventing and proactively treating diseases.
Venter’s co-founders are rock stars in their own right:
• Stem cell pioneer Robert Hariri, MD, PhD, who serves as President of Human Longevity Cellular Therapeutics, is a former CEO of Celgene Cellular Therapeutics, one of the world’s largest human cellular therapeutics companies.
“Using the combined power of our core areas of expertise—genomics, informatics, and stem cell therapies, we are tackling one of the greatest medical/scientific and societal challenges—aging and aging related diseases,” Venter said in a March 2014 statement announcing HLI’s creation. “HLI is going to change the way medicine is practiced by helping to shift to a more preventive, genomic-based medicine model, which we believe will lower healthcare costs. Our goal is not necessarily lengthening life, but extending a healthier, high performing, more productive life span.”
Venter Intends to Sequence One Million Genomes by 2020
The startup was originally backed by $70 million in initial investor funding. It began operations in 2014 with two Illumina HiSeq X Ten Sequencing Systems and an option to buy three more.
Today, HLI has 24 state-of-the-art sequencers (making Venter Illumina’s biggest customer) and the young company spends $30 million on sequencing reagents alone, New Republic reported. HLI, which currently has a database of more than 20,000 whole-human genomes, may add additional sequencing facilities to the third-floor of its San Diego facility and expand its sequencing capability to Singapore. Venter told New Republic his goal is to sequence a million genomes by 2020.
“Right now, we know less than one percent of the genome in terms of how to really interpret it,” Venter stated in New Republic. “Even with that, that’s extremely valuable in being able to start this new preventative medicine paradigm where this information can help people understand their own health risk and hopefully save a lot of lives.”
HLI Sees ‘Data Interpretation’ 100% of Tomorrow’s Market
While HLI’s primary focus will remain building its ever-growing genomic database, Venter told Technology Review he intends for HLI to offer other common kinds of testing such as preconception screening for parents, sequencing of tumors from cancer clinics, and screening of newborns.
“[HLI] would be just one more off-the-shelf genetic testing company, if the entire motivation weren’t to build this large database,” Venter told Technology Review. “The future game is 100% in data interpretation. If we are having this conversation five to 10 years from now, it’s going to be very different. It will be, ‘Look how little we knew in 2015.’”
Venter’s prediction about how “the future game is 100% in data interpretation” is also a warning to pathologists and the clinical laboratory industry. Simply generating sequencing data and lab test data will not be worth much reimbursement. It will be interpretation where labs have the opportunity to deliver great value and be paid for that value.
Pathologists and clinical laboratory executives interested in learning more about the whole-human gene sequencing activities at Human Longevity Inc., may want to register to attend the 21st annual Executive War College on Lab and Pathology Management that takes place in New Orleans on April 26-27. HLI’s Chief Medical Officer, Brad Perkins, MD, will be speaking about the activities happening at Human Longevity Inc.
—Andrea Downing Peck