[UPDATED: 6/19/15, 3:53pm. See below.] There are several long-term studies taking place around the world to track the health of large groups of people. One in Seattle called the 100K Wellness Project is spinning out a new company called Arivale with a caffeinated jolt of local investment cash.
The 100K is being run by the Institute for Systems Biology, a nonprofit research group founded by Leroy “Lee” Hood, a pioneer of genetic sequencing and other biotech endeavors. The idea, which has grown from Hood’s advocacy of so-called “P4 medicine“— predictive, preventive, personalized and participatory—is to bring many forms of new technology to bear, including full genome sequencing, microbiome screening, and fitness tracking through wearable devices, to paint as complete a picture as possible of all the participants’ health.
The program aims to monitor everyone to understand what constitutes wellness, or illness, or a transition between the two. Participants in the study are also paired with a coach to give health-related advice.
[Updated with information from Ed Lazowska.] The first group of 107 have just completed one year, and their data are being analyzed. One of the 107, University of Washington computer scientist Ed Lazowska, told Xconomy the participation has already paid off in two ways. “From the first blood work, I learned that the level of mercury in my blood was distressingly high,” Lazowska said, but a conversation with his coach for the study brought out his habit of eating tuna sushi three days a week. Switching to salmon cut his blood mercury in half in a couple of months, Lazowska said.
He also said the blood work revealed high levels of a protein called homocysteine, which is implicated in heart disease and stroke. His genome scan revealed a gene variant that makes it difficult to absorb vitamin B folate, which keeps homocysteine in check. Taking a multivitamin with a more easily absorbed B vitamin brought the homocysteine back to normal. The coaching, Lazowska said, “was essential” for him, “and an interesting question is how much of it can be automated for greater scalability.”
In other words, as more people join the project—or Arivale—it won’t be sound business to give everyone a personal coach.
From a brief description on the Arivale website, it seems the company will follow a similar formula: track participant health, share the results with them, and pair them with coaches. But how it recruits customers, what it charges them, and whether their health data is shared with the 100K project remains to be seen. Lazowska said he’s been offered a “cut rate” for re-upping with Arivale, which implies that Arivale is the next phase of the 100K project. ISB officials declined to comment.
Two people from the investment firm Maveron, which was cofounded by Starbucks mogul Howard Schultz, are listed in Washington state documents as top Arivale executives. Maveron general partner Clayton Lewis is Arivale president and chairman, and the firm’s CFO Brett Miller is listed as Arivale secretary and treasurer. Miller and Lewis could not be immediately reached for comment.
In an interview last summer around the time the 100K project launched, ISB associate director Nathan Price discussed how the 100K project could lead to myriad business opportunities, and he flagged the possibility of a venture-backed startup emerging in 2015. “We could see this becoming a commercial product, some cheaper version of the grand project that people can buy into, monitor themselves in some way,” Price told me.
He also said the 100K project could potentially serve as an “economic innovation engine” that drives new device design, new tools for informatics and analytics, and new diagnostics.
Price’s LinkedIn page lists him as an Arivale cofounder and board member.
Others affiliated with the startup are chief translational science officer Jennifer Lovejoy, who worked on the first phase of the 100K project, and chief business officer Sean Bell, who held a similar role on the 100K project. Several others listed as Arivale employees on LinkedIn were previously affiliated with ISB.
Arivale is describing itself as a “wellness service.” Hood is listed as a cofounder on an invitation to the company’s launch party, which takes place Monday at Seattle’s Palace Ballroom.
Ben Romano contributed to this report.