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Human Longevity Buys Software Specialist Cypher Genomics

Xconomy San Diego — 

[Updated 11/30/2015 at 9:25 pm. See below.] Human Longevity, the San Diego startup founded by human genome pioneer J. Craig Venter, said today it has acquired San Diego-based Cypher Genomics. Financial terms were not disclosed.

Cypher Genomics has developed software that it says can address a bottleneck in the practical use of whole genome sequencing by dramatically reducing the time required to interpret raw data produced by genome sequencing. The company’s 14 employees will join Human Longevity, including CEO and co-founder Ashley Van Zeeland, who is now leading Human Longevity’s pediatric business.

Venter co-founded Human Longevity in 2013 with Robert Hariri, the former CEO of Celgene Cellular Therapeutics, and Peter Diamandis of the X Prize Foundation, with the idea of gleaning insights from human genome research to extend human life and health.

The company provides whole genome sequencing for clinical customers, diagnostics services, and research and development projects. In 2014, Human Longevity raised $70 million in Series A funding, and in October it started operating a concierge medical business called Health Nucleus to provide whole genome sequencing and other diagnostic services for executive customers.

Cypher, founded in 2011, has developed two primary lines of business. Its Mantis software is used to interpret genomic sequencing data to find clinically significant variants. The company also operates Coral, a biomarker discovery service.

[Updates background of Cypher Genomics.] Cypher traces its roots to the Scripps Translational Science Institute (STSI) in San Diego, where Nik Schork, an expert in bioinformatics and genomic medicine, was working on the kind of quantitative analytics and computational tools needed to screen millions of DNA bases, and to identify and classify thousands of genes. The four co-founders include STSI director Eric Topol, Ali Torkamani, an expert in drug discovery and experimental medicine, Schork, and Van Zeeland, a neuroscientist then working in Schork’s lab.

Cypher says its technology can resolve the “signal-to-noise” problem that makes it difficult for researchers to find important biomarkers in small sample sizes of a few hundred patients or less. Cypher approached the task as more of a pattern-recognition problem that compares sets of genomic data, with each set involving billions of DNA base pairs.

In the case of Lilly Grossman (pictured above), a teenager with severe, undiagnosed muscle tremors, Cyper’s technology rapidly identified specific genetic mutations in two genes—and pointed the way to the best available therapy.

Cypher has collaborated with Celgene, Illumina, Sequenom, the Scripps Translational Science Institute, the University of Pennsylvania, and the Clinic for Special Children. This past summer, the company and its partner Lockheed Martin were selected by Genomics England as a reserve bidder for providing genome interpretations for the 100,000 Genomes Project.

Neither company had executives who were immediately available for comment.

“Cypher Genomics has created important automated and scalable genome interpretation technology, informed by additional expertise in genetics and biology, that we believe will be invaluable to [Human Longevity’s] business,” Venter said in a prepared statement.