Human Longevity joins with South African insurer for $250 exome sequencing service

J. Craig Venter, CEO of Human Longevity

J. Craig Venter's Human Longevity (HLI) is teaming up with South African insurer Discovery Health to offer a $250 full exome sequencing product to customers, cashing in on the consumer diagnostics trend while delivering on its human genome sequencing ambitions.

As part of the multiyear deal, San Diego-based HLI will make its service available to individuals in the U.K. and South Africa through a wellness program, providing detailed information on each person's genome, the companies said in a statement. Reports will be sent to doctors or genetic counselors rather than directly to customers, and Discovery will pick up half of the $250 tab with individuals covering the rest, Discovery CEO Jonathan Broomberg told The MIT Technology Review.

If all goes according to plan, as many as 100,000 people will join the service over the next several years, he added.

"I hope that we get a real breakthrough in the field of personalized wellness," Broomberg said, as quoted by the MIT Technology Review. "My fear would be that people are afraid of this and don't want the information--or that even at this price point, it's still too expensive. But we're optimistic."

The deal could have far-reaching benefits for HLI, as it shoots to create the world's largest database of human genetic information. Through its agreement with Discovery, the company will add customers' information to its database, spurring research while moving it one step closer to its goal of sequencing up to 100,000 human genomes a year.

"We are eager to begin working with Discovery … to bring this unique insurance offering to their clients," Venter said in a statement. "Together Discovery and HLI are paving the way for a new healthcare future."

A deal with Discovery comes as diagnostics companies eye the fast-growing consumer healthcare space. Startups and industry heavyweights are looking to get in on the action, developing new products to gain ground in the market and striking deals with payers to make tests more affordable for customers.

In June, Invitae ($NVTA) slashed prices for its genetic tests, saying it would offer its diagnostic tools at a patient price of $475 instead of $1,500. Earlier this month, San Diego-based Pathway Genomics rolled out a liquid biopsy test for early detection of cancer, planning to offer its product to consumers for $299.

- read the companies' statement
- here's the MIT Technology Review story