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$220M Richer, Human Longevity Ups Ante In Genomics Business Race

Xconomy San Diego — 

Human Longevity, the private San Diego startup aiming to turn DNA from tens of thousands of people into a range of new businesses, said this afternoon it has reeled in $220 million in venture cash.

The Series B money brings Human Longevity’s fundraising to $300 million, a stunning sum for a biotech with an unproven business model. Its chairman and CEO is J. Craig Venter (pictured), the leader of one of the projects that first sequenced the human genome. His web of companies and research groups have since worked in areas such as genomic sequencing, marine microbial sampling, and synthetic biology, creating what Venter called last month “the first designer organism in history.”

At the firm’s 2014 unveiling officials said that HLI, as it is known, aimed to build the world’s largest human genome database, with 40,000 genomes sequenced a year at first, eventually getting up to 100,000 a year.

HLI said today in a press release it currently has 20,000 genomes in the database.

It is also sequencing human microbiomes—that is, the DNA from the trillions of microbes that coexist on every human—and collecting all manner of other health data.

From those data HLI would eventually like to develop therapies, a very long-term proposition, and diagnostic products. In the shorter term, HLI is offering private and public researchers access to its database.

Another part of HLI, dubbed Health Nucleus, launched last fall as a so-called “concierge” service, a personal health check-up for self-paying customers. A comprehensive workup at Health Nucleus would include a whole genome sequence, a microbiome sequence, whole-body medical imaging, and a battery of other tests that aren’t available to the average citizen—and that insurance plans would not cover for healthy people. Venter said last fall a checkup would cost either $25,000 or $50,000.

The race is on to collect reams of personal health data and turn them into businesses.

In Seattle, a nonprofit project to collect 100,000 people’s data has spun out a consumer business called Arivale. In the Bay Area, 23andMe has regrouped after a 2013 run-in with the FDA to turn data from its 1 million-plus users into a drug development unit run by Genentech’s former top scientist. The firm also gained approval for a battery of tests for genes associated with dozens of rare diseases, which it is marketing to prospective parents and others.

Investors in HLI’s Series B round include Illumina, Celgene, and GE Ventures. Illumina’s sequencing machines are the backbone of HLI’s technology. Illumina has helped create and invested heavily in two other recently-launched ventures that rely upon discounted Illumina technology: Grail, which is developing a blood test for early-stage cancer, and Helix, which wants to create a marketplace akin to Apple’s iTunes for non-medical apps based on consumer genetics, such as ancestry and fitness.