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Craig Venter starts DNA-scanning company to boost longevity

J. Craig Venter, the man who raced the U.S. government to sequence the first human genome, has a new goal: Help everyone live to 100, in good health.

“Our goal is to make 100-years-old the new 60,” said Peter Diamandis, who co-founded with Venter a company that aims to scan the DNA of as many as 100,000 people a year to create a massive database that will lead to new tests and therapies that can help extend healthy human life spans.

Human Longevity Inc. will use machines from Illumina Inc. (Nasdaq: ILMN), which has a stake in the company, to decode the DNA of people from children to centenarians. San Diego-based Human Longevity will compile the information into a database that will include information on both the genome and the microbiome, the microbes that live in our gut. The aim is to help researchers understand and address diseases associated with age-related decline.

The company, with $70 million in initial funding, will focus first on cancer, according to a statement Tuesday.

“We are setting up the world’s largest human genome sequencing facility,” said Venter, who led a private team that sequenced one of the first two human genomes over a decade ago, in a telephone interview. “The goal is to promote healthy aging using advanced genomics and stem cell therapy.”

Venter started the closely held company with Diamandis, the X Prize Foundation chairman, and stem cell researcher Robert Hariri. Hariri is founder and chief scientific officer of Celgene Cellular Therapeutics, a unit of Celgene Corp. that is working on stem cell treatments.

Improved machines

The speed and accuracy of DNA-scanning machines increased to the point that for the first time makes massive clinically oriented sequencing efforts possible, Venter said.

“I have been waiting for 13 years for the technology to jump up to a scale that is needed for genomics to have a significant impact” in medicine, Venter said. “We have just crossed that threshold.”

Human Longevity has an agreement with the University of California, San Diego to perform genome sequencing of patients at the Moores Cancer Center, according to the statement. In addition to providing DNA data to doctors at UCSD, the goal is to make individual genome data directly available to patients once the company meets U.S. regulatory standards for providing clinical-level information, said Heather Kowalski, a spokeswoman for Venter and the new company, in an email.

In addition to genome and microbiome data, the company will collect data on biochemicals and lipids circulating throughout patients’ bodies.

Last September, Google Inc. (Nasdaq: GOOG) announced it was investing in a new company focused on aging and age-related diseases, Calico, that would be led by Arthur Levinson, chairman of Roche Holding AG’s Genentech unit and a former Google director.

Venter is chairman of the J. Craig Venter Institute and chief executive officer of Synthetic Genomics Inc., a closely held San Diego-based company that is working on developing algae biofuels with funding from Exxon Mobil Corp.

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1 UserComments
Robert C Leif, PhD. 8:27am March 6, 2014

This is excellent news! I hope that the other major hospitals will also use the services of Human Longevity Inc. Sequencing of tumors should be the new standard of care.

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