Sequencing pioneer Venter raises $70M to fund a new biotech to combat aging

Craig Venter

Watch out, Google. Genome pioneer Craig Venter, well known for elbowing his way to the front of a scientific race, is launching a new company that will tackle the multitude of diseases that affect aging.

Venter today said he had gained $70 million from investors to start Human Longevity Inc. (HLI) with plans to create the world's largest sequencing project aimed at gathering an unprecedented database covering the "complete" human genotype, microbiome and phenotype. And the startup plans to use the information to create cell-based treatments that can extend lives and improve the quality of the years allowed to us.

Venter will be both chairman and CEO of this new venture, with Peter Diamandis of the X Prize Foundation and Celgene ($CELG) vet Robert Hariri stepping in as vice chairmen.

With the database in hand, says Venter, he plans to generate revenue by licensing out the information to the biopharma industry, while pursuing a new generation of therapeutics and diagnostics. Ever the aggressive scientist, Venter also spelled out plans to launch an industrial-scale approach to sequencing, starting with a goal of sequencing 40,000 genomes a year and then scaling it up to 100,000 genomes. 

HLI's goals will sound familiar to the biotech industry. Google's ($GOOG) Larry Page set up the legendary Art Levinson of Genentech fame to start his new biotech, Calico, which is also targeting "aging" as a broad category. Calico, though, had a much quieter coming-out party and has been reluctant to discuss details. Venter, who made the cover of Time with the current chief of the NIH--Francis Collins--after they raced to sequence the first human genome in 2000, likes to make waves. (Officially, the sequencing race was a tie, but Venter sealed his reputation as one of the most arrogant, aggressive scientists in the U.S.)

Over the past 14 years the price of sequencing has plunged, making it possible to take on a project like this.

HLI is collaborating with the nearby University of California, San Diego; metabolomics-focused Metabolon, and of course the J. Craig Venter Institute, where Venter created the pioneering version of synthetic life. John Moores Cancer Center at the University of California, San Diego, will assist in sequencing cancer tumors from all patients, a service that could eventually help fund the company, reports The New York Times. And HLI plans to extend its academic network to clinical centers around the world.

"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," said Venter in a statement. "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."

- here's the release from Venter
- here's UC-San Diego's statement
- here's the story from The New York Times

Special Report: The 25 most influential people in biopharma 2012 - J. Craig Venter