Craig Venter, the US scientist who raced the
US government to map the human genome over a decade ago and created synthetic
life in 2010, is now on a quest to treat age-related disease.
Venter has teamed up with stem cell pioneer Dr Robert Hariri and X Prize
Foundation founder Dr Peter Diamandis to form Human Longevity Inc., a company
that will use both genomics and stem cell therapies to find treatments that
allow ageing adults to stay healthy and functional for as long as possible.
Changing the cost of medicine
"We're hoping to make numerous new discoveries in preventative medicine.
We think this will have a huge impact on changing the cost of medicine," Venter
said on a conference call announcing his latest venture.
The San Diego-based startup company has $70 million in private backing and
has already purchased two ultrafast HiSeq X Ten gene sequencing systems from
Illumina Inc., a leading manufacturer of DNA
sequencing machines, with the option to buy three more.
The company will use that technology to map 40 000 human genomes in a push
to build the world's largest database of human genetic variation. The database
will include sequences from the very young through the very old, both diseased
"This will be one of the largest data studies in the history of science
and medicine," Venter told the conference call.
In addition to gathering whole genome data, the company will collect genetic
data on the trillions of microbes – including bacteria,
and fungi – living in and on humans.
By better understanding the microbiomes in the gut, in the mouth, on the
skin and other sites on the body, the company said it hopes to develop better probiotics
as well as better diagnostics and drugs to improve health and wellness.
Along with the microbiome data, Human Longevity Inc. or HLI will collect data
on the metabolome – the various metabolites, biochemicals and fats in the body – in order to get a better picture of the circulating chemicals that contribute
to health and affect how drugs work.
The company's initial treatment targets will be some of the toughest
age-related diseases: cancer,
and liver diseases, and
Venter said the company will start first with cancer. It has teamed up with
the Moores Cancer Centre at the University of California, San Diego, with the
goal of sequencing the genomes of everyone who comes there for treatment, as
well as doing a full genome sequence on their tumours.
"Cancer is one of the most actionable areas right now with
genomic-based therapies," Venter said, adding that cancer is "just
the first of a multitude of diseases we will be sequencing this year."
In addition to UCSD, the company has established strategic collaborations
with privately held Metabolon Inc. of North Carolina, a company that focuses on
biochemical profiling, as well as his own J. Craig Venter Institute, a
non-profit genomics research institute.
Venter said the first round of funding should last about 18 months. Initial
backers include Malaysian real estate developer, Kian Thiam "K.T."
Lim and Illumina.
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