Venter's HLI plans to ramp up sequencing capacity as more pharma deals near fruition

Yaron Turpaz--Courtesy of Human Longevity

J. Craig Venter's Human Longevity, Inc., is working toward new deals with biopharma companies. And the completion of the agreements could lead to a ramping up of HLI's already massive sequencing capacity.

When HLI set up shop in March 2014, it bought two of Illumina's ($ILMN) $1,000-genome-enabling HiSeq X Ten systems on day one and secured an option to acquire three more in the future. Now, Yaron Turpaz, the CIO Venter poached from AstraZeneca ($AZN), has told Bio-IT World HLI is nearing the day on which it needs to add capacity. The company's sequencing operation is already slightly bigger than the one outlined in March 2014--24 HiSeq X machines are running alongside two Pacific Biosciences ($PACB) units--but more technology will be needed if HLI grows as planned.

"The projection is that we'll expand our sequencing capacity based on the demands as we sign on more significant contracts. We landed an agreement with Genentech and we're in discussion with other pharma. As we land more contracts with requirements for more [sequencing] machines, we'll increase the throughput," Turpaz said. Venter talked up the expansion at the Advances in Genome Biology & Technology (AGBT) meeting back in March, according to Wells Fargo Analyst Tim Evans. At the time, Venter reportedly said HLI was planning to buy four more HiSeq X Ten systems.

HLI is already capable of sequencing nearly 40,000 whole genomes a year. As such, the addition of four more HiSeq X Ten systems would swell its throughput up to about 100,000 genomes a year, a figure that would move HLI closer to realizing its vision of having sequencing data on at least 1 million people by 2020. Ex-BGI CEO Jun Wang is also aiming to sequence the genomes of 1 million people in the belief that the figure is the minimum required to start to understand complex genetic traits. Both Venter and Wang are also aiming to gather a sea of complementary data.

"We will only sequence when there's high quality phenotypic and clinical data that comes with the samples," Turpaz said. HLI is talking to pharma about changing informed consent for clinical trials to make genome sequencing routine and has its own initiatives. "We are going to open this year our first HLI Health Nucleus in San Diego as an entry point for individuals to come in and go through a full whole-genome analysis, full body MRI and other detailed phenotypic data that we are going to collect," Turpaz said. 

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