Biotechnologist Craig Venter — the first scientist to map the human genome and create synthetic life — now wants to dramatically extend the human lifespan. His new company, Human Longevity Inc., will use both genomics and stem cell therapies to help people stay healthy and vibrant for as long as possible.
This news comes seven months after Google's announcement that it had founded a similar company, Calico — a startup that will focus on health, well-being, and extending the human lifespan. The corporate race to prolong life, it would seem, is starting to heat up. And rightly so; there's a ton of money to be made — and saved — through preventative medicines.
Venter, along with stem cell pioneer Robert Hariri and X Prize Foundation founder Peter Diamandis, are hoping to see the startup make a batch of new discoveries.
"We think this will have a huge impact on changing the cost of medicine," Venter said on a conference call announcing the venture.
To date, the company has received $70-million in private backing. It's even procured two ultrafast HiSeq X Ten gene sequencing systems from Illumina Inc, a leading manufacturer of DNA sequencing machines, with the option to buy three more. The technology will be used to map the 40,000 human genomes as the company builds the world's largest database of human genetic variation. It will contain sequences from the very young through to the very old, both diseased and healthy.
"This will be one of the largest data studies in the history of science and medicine," said Venter.
Remarkably, the startup will also gather whole genome data on the trillions of microbes that populate the human body, including bacteria, viruses, and fungi. The goal is to develop better probiotics and diagnostic tools and drugs to improve health and wellness.
Initially, the company plans to address some of the toughest age-related diseases, namely cancer, diabetes and obesity, heart and liver diseases, and dementia.
"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 — aging and aging related diseases," noted Venter in a release. "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."
Methinks Venter is being both insincere and humble. By tackling these problems in this way, his company is very well positioned to become a leader in the development of bona fide life extension technologies. It's possible Venter is avoiding the seemingly radical talk about "not necessarily lengthening life" to maintain credibility. But based on Venter's work in the past, it's clear this guy is thinking big.
Image: Craig Venter Institute.