Wealthy elitist tries to live forever by sequencing genomes

J. Craig Venter is another wealthy entrepreneur that thinks he can cheat aging and death. He hopes to do so by sequencing genomes. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/05/business/in-pursuit-of-longevity-a-plan-to-harness-dna-sequencing.html?src=twrhp
Dr. Venter announced on Tuesday that he was starting a new company, Human Longevity, which will be focused on figuring out how people can live longer and healthier lives.
To do that, the company will build what Dr. Venter says will be the largest human DNA sequencing operation in the world, capable of processing 40,000 human genomes a year.
The huge amount of DNA data will be combined with other data on the health and body composition of the people whose DNA is sequenced.
Slowing aging, if it can be done, could be a way to prevent many diseases, an alternative to treating one disease a time.
“Your age is your number one risk factor for almost every disease, but it’s not a disease itself,” Dr. Venter said in an interview. Still, his company will also work on treating individual diseases of aging as well.
Human Longevity said it had raised $70 million, most of it from wealthy individuals, some of whom have backed his existing company, Synthetic Genomics.
But a “not insignificant” part of the funding comes from Illumina, the dominant manufacturer of DNA sequencing machines. Human Longevity has ordered two of Illumina’s new top-of-the-line HiSeq X Ten systems, each of which has a list price of $10 million.
Dr. Venter is known most for having run a privately funded effort to sequence the first human genome, racing to a tie against the publicly funded Human Genome Project in 2000. More recently, Dr. Venter has made claim to creating what some have called the first synthetic cell.
Last year, Google’s chief executive, Larry Page, announced that his company was creating an anti-aging company, Calico, which is being run by Arthur D. Levinson, a former chief executive of Genentech. Oracle’s chief executive, Larry Ellison, has financed anti-aging research through his foundation.
With the cost of sequencing falling rapidly, other groups are also undertaking large sequencing efforts aimed at finding clues to diseases. Regeneron Pharmaceuticals and Geisinger Health System announced an effort to sequence 100,000 human genomes in January.
Just this week, scientists reported that a genetic study of 150,000 people revealed a mutation that reduces the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.
Illumina says that with its new X Ten system, the cost to sequence one human genome will be below $1,000.
Dr. Venter said his company planned to sequence the genomes of both healthy and sick people, from children through centenarians. The company will also sequence the people’s microbiomes — the microbes living on and in them. And it has signed a contract with another company, Metabolon, which can measure chemicals in their blood.
It is not clear how quickly, if at all, this data sifting will yield usable insights and how the company would make money. Human Longevity said it planned to sell data to pharmaceutical companies and eventually benefit from drugs and diagnostic tests derived from its findings. Is is also considering offering stem cell therapy.
The company said it would collaborate with the Moores Cancer Center at the University of California, San Diego, and offer to sequence the DNA of the tumors of all patients, as well as the DNA from healthy cells. At first, patients would not be charged for this, but eventually the company hopes to sell such a service.
Many cancer centers are already testing selected genes in tumors looking for mutations that could suggest which treatments would be best for that patient. It is not clear yet how much more would be gained by sequencing the entire genome of the tumor cells.
The company will be based in San Diego, also the location of Synthetic Genomics, which is trying to use sophisticated genetic engineering techniques to create organisms that can produce fuel, chemicals and medicines.

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