Venter's HLI adds genome interpretation software in Cypher Genomics buyout

J. Craig Venter

Human Longevity Inc. (HLI) has bolstered its genome interpretation capabilities through the takeover of Cypher Genomics. The deal gives J. Craig Venter's HLI access to software that enabled Cypher to land deals with Celgene ($CELG) and Illumina ($ILMN), while also adding the team that developed the tools to its ranks.

Cypher has built its business around two pieces of software, a genome interpretation program for clinical laboratories and a biomarker-discovery package pitched at drug developers. Venter moved quickly to give HLI in-house data-crunching skills when he first set up the business, notably by luring Franz Och from Google ($GOOG), but the genomics veteran still sees value in acquiring Cypher and its tools. In particular, Mantis, Cypher's interpretation software, could improve HLI's data analysis operation by supporting the quick identification of clinically significant variants.

"Cypher Genomics has created important automated and scalable genome interpretation technology informed by additional expertise in genetics and biology that we believe will be invaluable to HLI's business," Venter said in a statement. The deal also gives HLI control of Coral, the biomarker discovery tool that is at the heart of Cypher's collaborations with Celgene and Illumina. Cypher pitches Mantis as a way for drug developers to sift through large data sets to generate the rare variant sets that support the creation of companion diagnostics.

HLI will now have the chance to deploy this tool in its drive to land biopharma clients. But the deal isn't just about software. HLI has also gained the team behind the software. Cypher CEO Ashley Van Zeeland is now the head of HLI's pediatric business, and the other members of the 14-person company are also joining Venter's operation. "The Cypher team, led by Dr. Van Zeeland, is a very impressive group of scientists who will be crucial in augmenting HLI's already unparalleled and comprehensive genomic database business," Venter said.

The focus on the personnel aspects of the takeover give it a slight feel of an acquihire, a type of deal popular in tech circles in which startups are bought more for the skills of their staff than their products or services. 

- read the release