Genomics pioneer wants to stop ageing in its tracks

A new company has been launched which aims to develop new genomic and stem-cell based therapies to tackle age-related diseases.

Human Longevity Inc is the brain child of Craig Venter, one of the high profile pioneers of the mapping of the human genome in the late 1990s.

Venter and his business partners are now taking this expertise in genomics and applying it to developing new diagnostics to identify age-related disease and then treat it with stem cell-based therapies.

The new company’s core mission is to extend the mapping of human disease beyond genes, and into microbes, metabolites, biochemicals and lipids, which all play a vital but currently poorly understood role in disease. This goal is ambitious in its scope as the Human Genome Project was 20 years ago.

However, unlike the 1990s, Venter and his colleagues are not pioneers in the field, and will face stiff competition from existing players in the gene sequencing and cell-based therapeutics fields.

Another US company already established in the genomic field is Myriad, and it has being involved in the discovery of a number of key genes, such as BRAC1 and BRAC2, which are very closely linked to raised risk of breast and ovarian cancer.

Identifying the causes of age-related disease

The company, headquartered in San Diego is being capitalised with an initial $70 million in investor funding. Venter has teamed up with stem cell pioneer Dr. Robert Hariri and X Prize Foundation founder Dr. Peter Diamandis to lead the company.

HLI’s founders say they will build the largest human sequencing operation in the world to compile the most complete database of human genotype, microbiome, and phenotypes, and from there tackle diseases associated with ageing.

Revenue streams will be derived from database licensing to pharmaceutical, biotech and academic organisations, sequencing, and development of advanced diagnostics and therapeutics.

HLI will use these funds to pay for its own research to develop novel cell-based therapeutics to target age-related decline.

“Using the combined power of our core areas of expertise — genomics, informatics, and stem cell therapies, we are tackling one of the greatest medical/scientific and societal challenges — ageing and ageing related diseases,” said Dr. Venter. “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. Our goal is not necessarily lengthening life, but extending a healthier, high performing, more productive life span.”

HLI has initially purchased two Illumina HiSeq X Ten Sequencing Systems (with the option to acquire three additional systems) to sequence up to 40,000 human genomes per year, with plans to rapidly scale to 100,000 human genomes per year. HLI will sequence a variety of humans — children, adults and super centenarians and those with disease and those that are healthy.

HLI says it is ‘uniquely positioned’ to identify therapeutic solutions to preserve the healthy, high performing body by focusing on some key targets – cancer, diabetes and obesity, heart and liver diseases, and dementia. The company has established strategic collaborations with Metabolon University of California, San Diego, and the J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI).

HLI is focusing its initial clinical sequencing efforts on cancer. The company said: “While many are tackling this area using gene sequencing and other advanced technologies, there has not been a comprehensive clinical effort to combine germ line, human genome and tumour genome sequencing along with comprehensive biochemical information from each patient.”

The firm has already signed collaborative research deals with UC San Diego into whole genome, microbiome and tumor sequencing and with Metabolon, a diagnostic products and services company offering the biochemical profiling platform, to capture this information from each of the genomic samples that HLI is collecting.

Stem Cell Therapies

The company will be embarking on an ambitious programme of stem cell therapy research to enhance and improve the healthy life span. HLI says it will focus on changes and degradation to the genome of the specialised cells found in all body tissues which maintain good health. It will also research how the body’s own stem cells age and degrade over time, with the aim of slowing or preventing their decline.

“The global market for healthy human longevity is enormous with total healthcare expenditures in those 65 and older running well over $7 trillion,” said Dr. Hariri. “We believe that HLI’s unique science and technology, along with our business leadership, will positively impact the healthcare market with novel diagnostics and therapeutics.”

Other Venter projects

Despite – or perhaps because of – Venter’s maverick profile, he has a track record in eye-catching scientific firsts. In 2010 another of his ventures created the first living cell to be controlled entirely by synthetic DNA.

His J Craig Venter Institute (JCVI) in Maryland and California, had been at the working on the project for 15 years, constructing a bacterium’s DNA and transplanted it into a host cell, which then looked and behaved like the species ‘dictated’ by the synthetic DNA.

The new company will work with JCVI in proteomics, infectious disease diagnostics, and the human microbiome, and will be licensing intellectual property from JCVI.

“Between 1910 and 2010 improvements in medicine and sanitation increased the human lifespan by 50 percent from 50 to 75 years,” said Dr. Diamandis. “Today with the emergence of exponential technologies such as those being pioneered and advanced by HLI we have the potential to meaningfully extend the lifespan even further.”

While Venter and his colleagues may not single-handedly transform genomic therapies and anti-ageing research, their arrival will certainly shake up the fields, and are likely to add extra urgency to an already rapidly evolving science.


Using the human genome to guide healthcare decisions


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