Ex-BGI CEO’s startup hits $1B valuation in 6 months

China's flag
(Will Clayton / CC BY 2.0)

Jun Wang has moved quickly since stepping down as CEO of Chinese genomics giant BGI to set up an artificial intelligence-enabled health data mining venture, iCarbonX. The startup, which opened its doors in October, already has a valuation of $1 billion having persuaded Asia’s biggest internet firm to lead a $155 million Series A round.

Wang setup iCarbonX to capitalize on the simultaneous emergence of the ability to generate massive multi-omic datasets and rise of artificial intelligence tools that are tipped to take some of the donkey work out of sifting through such resources. Setting up an organization capable of pulling off this ambitious plan will prove costly--Wang has previously said it may require $1.6 billion--but investors have so far shown a willingness to bankroll the venture.

Chinese news site Netease Tech reports iCarbonX has now wrapped up the Series A round that was first discussed in January. And, while reports from the start of year put the fundraising total for the Series A at $106 million, iCarbonX has eased past this goal, pocketing $155 million in round led by Tencent, an Asian internet behemoth with a market capitalization of around $200 billion. Vcanbio Cell & Gene Engineering previously disclosed a $15 million contribution to the Series A round.

The identity of the backers means iCarbonX now has deep-pocketed supporters--and, in the case of Vcanbio, a genome sequencing collaborator--to complement the team Wang has put together since leaving BG to set up his new venture. Yingrui Li, who worked with Wang as the former chief scientist of BGI, is listed alongside ex-Boston Consulting Group managing director Chun Wu as a cofounder of iCarbonX.

Work is now underway to turn these impressive human and financial resources into a company that can live up to the vision presented by Wang. Full details of exactly what iCarbonX will do are still emerging, but the basic outline shares similarities J. Craig Venter's Human Longevity, Inc, which is running a high-end personal health service alongside a data-enabled research operation. ICarbonX has reportedly already started working with pharma companies.

Wang disclosed further details this week in an interview with China Daily. "Tencent is not only an investor but also will be a strategic partner. We are discussing cooperation on jointly developing new internet-enabled products, and leveraging Tencent's popular social networking tool WeChat to collect users' data and do marketing,” he said.

“By sequencing and analyzing not just genomes, but behavior, imaging and environmental data of the same individual for a long time, we can know what interactions matter in causing genes to be expressed in a certain way.”

- read the Netease article (Chinese)

- here’s Tech in Asia’s take

- and China Daily's piece