J. Craig Venter raises $70M for a gene-sequencing and therapeutic startup

J. Craig Venter

J. Craig Venter, the aggressively confident gene-sequencing and synthetic biology pioneer, is co-founding a new diagnostic and therapeutic startup focused on aging-related diseases. The company, dubbed Human Longevity Inc. (HLI), rolls out of the starting gate with $70 million in initial investor funding.

A major project for the San Diego, CA, startup is already in play. HLI's initial mission is to build out the biggest human gene-sequencing operation, and the company will work with the University of California, San Diego, to develop protocols and procedures that enable whole-genome, microbiome and tumor sequencing/analysis for participating UC San Diego research patients. This project will use the tech to boost diagnostic prowess and help improve patient outcomes, according to the deal announcement. And the goal is to expand the concept to other clinical centers around the world.

To get the job done, HLI said it has snatched up two Illumina ($ILMN) HiSeq X Ten Sequencing Systems with an option to buy three more. The mission: to sequence up to 40,000 human genomes annually and then up that to 100,000 per year. A primary focus will be to find better ways to diagnose and treat diseases including cancer, diabetes and obesity, heart and liver diseases and dementia. The starting point, however, will be cancer. HLI will also work with the J. Craig Venter Institute, which Venter founded and runs, and which successfully built the first self-replicating synthetic bacterial cell.

How will this enterprise make money? The idea is that revenue will come from licensing these genomic databases to pharmaceutical, biotech and academic organizations. Sequencing will also be an important factor, as will development of new and advanced cell-based treatments and diagnostics.

Bringing gene sequencing into everyday diagnostic care is the trend. NextCODE Health launched last fall, for example, backed by $15 million in Series A financing with a mission to use gene sequencing technology for routine diagnosis of disease. In November, GenapSys grabbed $37 million in Series B financing to develop next-generation genomic sequencing tech that would gather detailed data for research and everyday testing of various diseases.

Venter, known as one of the most arrogant and aggressive scientists around, will be chairman and CEO of HLI. The X Prize Foundation's Peter Diamandis will serve as vice chairman along with Robert Hariri, the ex-head of cell therapy operations for Celgene ($CELG), The New York Times reported.

In a statement, Venter said that 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."

- read the release
- here's FierceBiotech's take
- check out the NYT story (sub. req.)

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