News Article | April 22, 2016
A sign is seen at an AstraZeneca site in Macclesfield, central England May 19, 2014. REUTERS/Phil Noble CAMBRIDGE, England (Reuters) - AstraZeneca, working with genome pioneer Craig Venter, is launching a massive gene hunt in the most comprehensive bet yet by a pharmaceutical firm on the potential of genetic variations to unlock routes to new medicines. The initiative, announced on Friday, involves sequencing up to 2 million human genomes - the complete set of genetic code that acts as the software of life - including 500,000 DNA samples collected by AstraZeneca in global clinical trials. Financial details of the 10-year project were not disclosed but Mene Pangalos, head of early drug development, said the company would be investing "hundreds of millions of dollars". AstraZeneca aims to identify rare genetic mutations involved in every kind of disease by scanning DNA from volunteers who agreed to have their genomes sequenced and to provide access to detailed medical records. The project is made possible by a dramatic fall in the cost of genetic sequencing. It took government-funded scientists $3 billion and 13 years to sequence the first human genome by 2003. Today, it costs around $1,000 and takes just three days. AstraZeneca will work with Venter's U.S. company Human Longevity Inc (HLI), which will sequence the genomes, including 1 million from HLI's database, and use machine-learning software to find patterns in genetic variations. The British group, which is establishing an in-house Centre for Genomics Research in Cambridge, where it is relocating its global headquarters, has also partnered with the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and Finland's Institute for Molecular Medicine. AstraZeneca is not the first drugmaker to start amassing troves of human DNA in this way but Venter, one of the first scientists to sequence the human genome, said it was the biggest commitment to date by any pharmaceutical company. Regeneron Pharmaceuticals signed a deal with Pennsylvania's Geisinger Health System two years ago to sequence partial genomes of some 250,000 volunteers, while Roche's Genentech unit signed a deal last year for HLI to sequence tens of thousands of genomes. "The big thing here is the magnitude of what we are trying to do," Pangalos said. "This takes it to a completely different level and I think it is going to be relevant of every therapeutic area." Until now, the field of genomics has largely failed to live up to the hype of hoped-for medical breakthroughs, although more recently genetic understanding has been crucial in the development of some cancer treatments. Now, thanks to industrial-scale sequencing and advances in gene editing that allow scientists to quickly test the effects of genetic variations, progress is expected to accelerate. Venter believes it could also unleash a new era of forensics, with HLI trying to predict what people might look like from their DNA. AstraZeneca’s decision to embed genomics across its research and development follows a push last year by the company to expand gene testing into areas including heart disease and asthma. “I believe we really have finally turned the corner and genomics will become central in drug development efforts,” said David Goldstein, a genetics expert from Columbia University, who chairs AstraZeneca’s Genomics Advisory Board.
News Article | April 22, 2016
Genetic researcher Craig Venter is shown with a multiple camera exposure in his office in La Jolla, California March 7, 2014. REUTERS/Mike Blake CAMBRIDGE, England (Reuters) - AstraZeneca , working with genome pioneer Craig Venter, is launching a massive gene hunt in the most comprehensive bet yet by a pharmaceutical firm on the potential of genetic variations to unlock routes to new medicines. The initiative, announced on Friday, involves sequencing up to 2 million human genomes - the complete set of genetic code that acts as the software of life - including 500,000 DNA samples collected by AstraZeneca in global clinical trials. Financial details of the 10-year project were not disclosed but Mene Pangalos, head of early drug development, said the company would be investing "hundreds of millions of dollars". AstraZeneca aims to identify rare genetic mutations involved in every kind of disease by scanning DNA from volunteers who agreed to have their genomes sequenced and to provide access to detailed medical records. The project is made possible by a dramatic fall in the cost of genetic sequencing. It took government-funded scientists $3 billion and 13 years to sequence the first human genome by 2003. Today, it costs around $1,000 (697 pounds) and takes just three days. AstraZeneca will work with Venter's U.S. company Human Longevity Inc (HLI), which will sequence the genomes, including 1 million from HLI's database, and use machine-learning software to find patterns in genetic variations. The British group, which is establishing an in-house Centre for Genomics Research in Cambridge, where it is relocating its global headquarters, has also partnered with the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and Finland's Institute for Molecular Medicine. AstraZeneca is not the first drugmaker to start amassing troves of human DNA in this way but Venter, one of the first scientists to sequence the human genome, said it was the biggest commitment to date by any pharmaceutical company. Regeneron Pharmaceuticals signed a deal with Pennsylvania's Geisinger Health System two years ago to sequence partial genomes of some 250,000 volunteers, while Roche's Genentech unit signed a deal last year for HLI to sequence tens of thousands of genomes. "The big thing here is the magnitude of what we are trying to do," Pangalos said. "This takes it to a completely different level and I think it is going to be relevant of every therapeutic area." Until now, the field of genomics has largely failed to live up to the hype of hoped-for medical breakthroughs, although more recently genetic understanding has been crucial in the development of some cancer treatments. Now, thanks to industrial-scale sequencing and advances in gene editing that allow scientists to quickly test the effects of genetic variations, progress is expected to accelerate. Venter believes it could also unleash a new era of forensics, with HLI trying to predict what people might look like from their DNA. AstraZeneca’s decision to embed genomics across its research and development follows a push last year by the company to expand gene testing into areas including heart disease and asthma. “I believe we really have finally turned the corner and genomics will become central in drug development efforts,” said David Goldstein, a genetics expert from Columbia University, who chairs AstraZeneca’s Genomics Advisory Board.
News Article | November 3, 2016
BEVERLY HILLS, CA--(Marketwired - Nov 3, 2016) - Thursday, November 3, 2016) -Announced today, The Central Europe Genomics Center (CEGC) who will provide the 100M Central Europe Market with whole genome sequencing (WGS) technologies, access to other, integrated OMIC technologies, and extended bioinformatics capabilities, as well as a construct a unique Civic Ecosystem to enable the adoption of precision medicine in emerging clinical and consumer markets has been presented a 10 figure plus term sheet under the Senior Advisory of Agent Alan Morell, Creative Management Partners LLC. Said Geoffrey Folkerth, Founder/Managing Partner: "When our associates recommended Alan Morell, (who after months of trying to get their venture renegotiated with a Fortune 50 company unsuccessfully, Alan did it in two phone calls), we vetted and then engaged Alan as Senior Advisor. Alan has brought us to several A-list Pharma Venture groups and we received in short order, a 10 figure plus term sheet thereafter. As I have stated before, Alan's hat is deep with magic!" Said Alan Morell: "Geoffrey and Piotr are International integrity driven respected executives, whose needs were ideal for participation with my financial contacts in Washington DC and beyond, understanding the European Model for Whole Genome Sequencing. Additionally, for the U.S. Audience, to support CEGC initiatives, our Agency is actively exploring a Docudrama for television in connection with the development, production and distribution of a reality television project with a working title Precision Medicine." The CEGC will establish Europe's first and only CLIA certified lab capable of providing a WGS for under $1000, thus enabling population-level national and regional sequencing programs, in a manner analogous to Macrogen (www.macrogen.com), a Korean based private, for-profit company offering sequencing services to Asian clinical and R&D market and Genomics England initiative: http://www.genomicsengland.co.uk, but with more than just sequencing capability in order to add value (e.g., bioinformatics capabilities; complementary assays such as proteomics and molecular and clinical phenotyping). To achieve this, CEGC has obtained exclusivity for Poland for Illumina's XTEN sequencing platform capable of providing an entire genome sequence for under $1000. http://www.illumina.com/systems/hiseq-x-sequencing-system/system.html. The CEGC, in partnership with the Medical University of Bialystok, Poland, will develop integrated infrastructure -- a "Civic Ecosystem" engaging all stakeholders with an interest in clinical medicine and public health to allow personalized medicine products and strategies to be developed, vetted and adopted. To do so the CEGC will, e.g., develop a commercial incubator and engage governmental and regulatory agencies to determine best practices for moving products and practices through the approval processes. This CEGC Civic Ecosystem will also initially leverage a 1,500 patient Community hospital in Poland as a clinical testing ground. CEGC will continue incubate similar projects across the CE region by identifying KOL in genomics and science, creating sequencing projects and assisting in grant applications. CEGC has assembled a team of renowned scientists and life science professionals dedicated to realizing the company's vision and business plan. Key team members include: Dr. Nicholas Schork, Ph.D.: CEO | leading statistical geneticist and applied biomedical researcher; helped set up first two XTEN's at Craig Venter's Human Longevity Institute (HLI) Piotr Staniszewski: Supervisory Board | 15 years C-level experience working with industry and government to build successful Polish business
News Article | February 21, 2017
THE WORLD'S MOST EXTREME physical exam starts in the world's plushest exam room, complete with a couch, a private bathroom and a teeming fruit plate. It will be my home for an entire day. First come the blood tests, vial after vial. Then two 35-minute sessions in an MRI tube, where REM and U2 try to drown out the clanks as the machine takes pictures of my entire body. There's an ultrasound of my heart. Salade Niçoise for lunch. A stool sample. A cognitive test in which letters flash on a computer screen at a dizzying pace. And a CT scan of my heart as well, which originally seemed so over-the-top for someone my age that I tried to get out of it. "In Vietnam, I used to do autopsies on 18-to-22-year-olds, and a lot of them had cardiovascular disease," J. Craig Venter, the architect of the process, says with a shrug, before adding, ominously, "We find things. The question is what you do with it." Yes, it's that Craig Venter, the man in the late 1990s who, frustrated by the slow progress of the government-funded Human Genome Project, launched an effort that sequenced human DNA two years earlier than planned (he was subsequently the first human to have his complete DNA sequenced). He hasn't slowed down since. He sailed around the world in a voyage inspired by Darwin's journey on the Beagle, discovering thousands of new species along the way. He has created synthetic life and started three companies, and was almost a billionaire before being fired from one of the most promising, Celera Genomics. Now he's back with his most ambitious project since his historic breakthrough 17 years ago. He's raised $300 million from investors including Celgene and GE Ventures for a new firm, Human Longevity, that's trying to take the DNA information he helped unlock and figure out how to leverage it to cheat death for years, or even decades. Core to the effort is the $25,000 executive physical, branded the Health Nucleus, that I'm taking (disclosure: I got tested for free). It's certainly very thorough--and, to many doctors, precisely the wrong approach, owing to all the false positives. "Study after study of various kinds of screening measures has shown they do more harm than good," says Steven Nissen, the chairman of cardiology at the Cleveland Clinic. "You do a total body MRI and you're lucky if you don't find something. I don't think it's good medicine." Venter scoffs. "We're screening healthy people, and a lot of physicians don't like that," he acknowledges. "My response is: How do you know they're healthy? We use a definition of health out of the Middle Ages: If you look okay and you feel okay, you're deemed healthy. We have a different way of looking at people." Now 70, Venter cites himself. Last year, he underwent his own physical and says he found prostate cancer, which was removed last November. The man he has called his "scientific muse," Nobel laureate Hamilton Smith, 85, found he had a deadly lymphoma in his lung. It has also been treated, and Smith says his prognosis is good. The famously gruff Venter is entirely comfortable ticking off the establishment, no matter what that establishment is, and the feeling is mutual. His DNA breakthrough was one of the great scientific accomplishments of the 20th century, yet he never won a Nobel Prize. Academics view him as someone interested in profits over science. "He's a very insecure person who compensates by coming across as very arrogant and aggressive," says one former collaborator. Similarly, Venter's discoveries have upended industries, yet his business track record, including a brief flirtation with billionairehood, is checkered, as connections to past backers and bosses have gone up in flames. "He has irritated a lot of people," says Harvard genetics professor George Church, a Venter fan. "It's a pity." Thus, Human Longevity offers Venter a last chance to square his legacy, awe the scientists and make billions in the process, all the while shaking the foundation of a topic that precisely 100% of homo sapiens have a keen interest in: how and when each of us will die. VENTER HAS DISPLAYED POTENTIAL, BOTH achieved and unrealized, almost since birth. Growing up in Millbrae, California, near what was emerging as Silicon Valley, he had such bad grades that by high school his worried mother sometimes checked his arms for track marks. The first glimmer of his future success was in swimming. He was initially mediocre, but when a coach sent him home for the summer with tips, his competitive streak kicked in. He spent three months training furiously and never again lost a race. "Had things been different I would have been competing for the Olympics," Venter says. "But Lyndon Johnson changed that for me with the draft." Swimming unlocked his potential, but Vietnam made him who he is. At age 20 he served as a Navy hospital corpsman, triaging troops who came back from battle, including the Tet Offensive. Deciding who would live and who would die was so traumatic that he says he considered suicide and swam far out to sea intending to drown. He says he had a change of heart a mile out after a shark prodded him. But he'd go through Vietnam again. "Knowing the outcome and what it did for my personal growth, I would force myself to do it again if I had the choice," Venter says. After he returned to the States, he went to community college, then the University of California, San Diego, where he initially wanted to be a doctor but discovered science. He eventually completed his Ph.D. in physiology and pharmacology, became a professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo in 1976 and, in 1984, joined the National Institutes of Health. At the NIH the themes that would define his career locked into place: productivity, perceived greed, the conflicts between pure science and industry money. Using a new technology, he discovered thousands of human genes. The NIH made the unprecedented decision to patent them in his name, and colleagues blamed Venter, calling him greedy. Nobel laureate James Watson said he was "horrified." Venter insists he was always against the patents but that the NIH did it anyway. Frustrated, he started a nonprofit institute in 1992, with a unique model. He raised money from venture capitalists, on the condition that he share his data with a for-profit company, Human Genome Sciences, before he published it. The relationship ended unhappily in 1997 because of arguments over data disclosure, with Venter walking away from $40 million in research funding. "I paid a lot of money to get rid of [Human Genome Sciences]," Venter says. But in 1995, Venter's institute made a real breakthrough: the first genome, or map of the genetic code of an organism, in this case a type of bacterium. It was a suggestion from Ham Smith. They had met at a scientific conference in Spain in 1993 and gone out drinking, starting a two-decade-plus collaboration. Foreshadowing his later race with the Human Genome Project, Venter and Smith's bacterial genome map beat similar projects in academia by many months. That led a California unit of lab equipment maker Perkin-Elmer, which made DNA sequencers, to approach Venter. If he could sequence a bacterial genome, why not use the company's newest machines to sequence a human genome? Venter couldn't say no, which led to Celera Genomics' founding in 1998. It not only succeeded in overtaking the $3 billion Human Genome Project, an international consortium funded largely by the U.S. government, but it also mapped the genomes of the fruit fly and the mouse, both important laboratory animals. In the process, Venter angered scientists globally, aghast that such research would be driven by profit rather than knowledge. At the time, James Watson reportedly became so enraged he compared Venter to Hitler, asking colleagues who they were going to be--Chamberlain or Churchill? But the pressure of private enterprise ultimately spurred results, both at Celera and the public group, which improved their methods and accelerated their research. As a result, the two groups jointly announced they had mapped the entire human genome--an achievement that our grandkids will be reading about in their textbooks--at the White House on June 26, 2000. In the age of the dot-com boom, Celera became a highflier, raising $855 million in a stock offering in February 2000 and peaking at a market capitalization of $14 billion just before the entire market started to collapse in March. Venter's stake briefly surpassed $700 million. He says he gave half his shares to his nonprofit foundation, which then sold half of them, netting more than $150 million, which has funded his science ever since. It was a necessary scientific nest egg. Celera struggled to invent drugs and diagnostic tests based on its pioneering research, and Venter bickered constantly with the board. They wanted Celera to become a pharma giant and invent medicines in-house. Venter simply wanted to be a scientist and sell other companies his data. He was fired in January 2002, days before a quarter of his stock options would vest. "Being fired in the way it was done was about as slimy as anybody could do it," Venter says. Celera limped along until 2011, when it was sold to Quest Diagnostics for $344 million. ( Forbes estimates that Venter's current net worth, based on his stakes in his two startups, is $300 million.) Venter's baby had essentially been sold for parts. WITH HUMAN LONGEVITY, VENTER HOPES TO solve the problem that ultimately limited the efficacy of Celera and the Human Genome Project. Those two groups produced an "average" DNA sequence. That's incredibly important for a science textbook, but for individuals, it's the differences--how one person's genes are different from another's, leading to different noses, eye colors and, yes, diseases--that matter. Venter says that, thanks to new technology, he can generate the data that can determine those differences. At Celera, Venter loved to show off his 25,000-square-foot rooms of DNA sequencing machines. But just one modern desktop DNA sequencer is as powerful as a thousand of those rooms and can map a person's genome in days for about $1,000. The original Human Genome Project took more than a decade and at least $500 million to do the same thing. (Illumina, the San Diego firm that makes the desktop sequencers, is a big investor in Human Longevity.) Human Longevity initially sequenced DNA from 40,000 people who had participated in clinical trials for the pharmaceutical companies Roche and AstraZeneca. Venter says this work has led to the discovery of genetic variations that can be found in young people but not older ones--meaning the young folks had genes incompatible with surviving into old age. Figuring out what these genes do could be the kind of breakthrough that would turn the promise of genome sequencing into a lifesaver. Venter decided that he also needed a study of people that could collect even more data than you can get from a clinical trial. Hence, the $25,000 physical. And because people pay, it's not only a source of data but also a revenue generator. At the moment, close to 500 people have gone through the physical. Venter hopes to be able to serve 2,000 annually as early as this year, which would generate $50 million in revenue. This isn't exactly covered by Medicare. The market, for the moment, will be the wealthy and the occasional company looking out for key executives--the promise of health as the ultimate luxury item. Doctors hate it. "I'm massively skeptical," says Benjamin Davies, a urologist at the University of Pittsburgh. "We've been down this road of investigating healthy patients, and it's been a sordid road." He points to a recent study that used CT scans to screen for lung cancer: 60% of patients needed follow-up tests, but only 1.5% had cancer. Otis Brawley, the chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, said Venter's work sounded like "fascinating science," so long as the people taking the physical understand that this is research, not medicine. Venter believes the problem with earlier screening tests is that they give too little data, not too much. He is his own evidence. He was the first person to get his DNA sequenced, and the results made him think his risk for most types of cancer was low. When he got prostate cancer, he asked his researchers why. They found what he calls "the likely perpetrator." It's a change in the way his body responds to the hormone testosterone. Testosterone works by tripping a cellular receptor (think of it as a switch). The gene for that receptor is more effective if it has fewer "repeats" (bits of repeated, garbled genetic code). Testosterone makes prostate cancer grow, so a man with 22 repeats and an inefficient receptor has a lowered risk of the disease. Venter's androgen receptor had just six repeats. "Basically, I have a supersensitive testosterone receptor," Venter says. "Everybody thought I had balls of steel. In fact, I have only six repeats in my androgen receptor." But Venter's constant search for more data about his own biology also made the problem worse, illustrating one of the true dangers of something like his $25,000 physical. Years before, Venter learned that his testosterone levels were low and decided to take testosterone supplements. (Most doctors don't recommend doing this.) That almost certainly made his tumor grow faster. About 40% of Health Nucleus' patients have found out they have something serious. Some, like Ham Smith's lung cancer, absolutely needed to be treated. Venter insists Smith's tumor might have killed him had it been discovered a few weeks later. But for most of Human Longevity's patients, the results are not so clear-cut. I'm lucky: My MRI results showed nothing save that my hippocampus, a part of the brain that forms memories, is of only average size. (My DNA sequence isn't in yet.) I've been thinking a lot about what I would do if I'd learned about a tumor or an aneurysm, and whether this whole endeavor is a bad idea. But I also haven't been able to get myself to regret going through it. Knowledge about yourself is a very seductive offer. It's one that Venter hopes will give him the data to finally deliver on the genome's promise. The dream of understanding life well enough to create it from scratch sounds like something out of Frankenstein. But Craig Venter is getting there, partly using investor money to fund the work. "There's no government funding to make a synthetic species," he says. In 2010, a team led by Venter that included his closest lieutenant, Hamilton Smith, and synthetic-biology wunderkind Daniel Gibson synthesized a genome for the bacterium Mycoplasma mycoides but with slight changes: their names and a James Joyce quote, all translated into a DNA code. Then they inserted the synthetic DNA into a bacterium and its original genome was destroyed. The cell functioned with the new, man-made DNA. They've since made another bacterium whose genome has been edited to lack any extraneous genes. Researchers thought bacteria needed only 250 genes to stay alive, but Venter's team found its germ needed 473--and nobody knows what 149 of them do. The resulting minimal genome could be useful for understanding which genes are really important. But there have already been commercial applications for this work. Synthetic Genomics Inc. (SGI) was founded around them in 2005. In 2009 Exxon Mobil pledged up to $300 million to create algae that can produce a biofuel that is cheaper than gasoline. Other projects involve drug manufacturing (including a project to rapidly prototype experimental vaccines), a partnership with Johnson & Johnson in drug research and an effort, with the biotechnology firm United Therapeutics, to create pigs whose organs can be safely transplanted into humans. SGI has also made a relatively inexpensive DNA printer that allows bench scientists to easily modify genetic material. It costs between $50,000 and $75,000. Fifty have been sold so far, but SGI chief executive Oliver Fetzer says the near-term addressable market could be worth $500 million. --M.H.
Human Longevity | Date: 2016-05-27
The present invention relates, in part, to the use of stem cells, such as placental-derived stem cells (PDSC), to reduce the effects of aging by, for example, restoring the regenerative engine and extending the lifespan of aging subjects. Provided herein, for example, are methods for maintaining or increasing the ratio of the number of stem cells to the number of differentiated cells in a tissue of a subject over time, comprising administering to the subject an effective amount of a population of stem cells (e.g., PDSC), wherein the ratio is maintained or increased over time as compared to the ratio of the number of stem cells to the number of differentiated cells in a tissue of a control subject over time. Further provided are methods of maintaining or increasing the number of stem cells in a tissue of a subject over time, comprising administering to the subject an effective amount of a population of stem cells (e.g., PDSC), wherein the number of stem cells in the tissue of the subject is maintained or increased over time as compared to the number of stem cells in the same tissue of a control subject. Also provided herein are methods of altering the phenotype or proteome of an aging stem cell resident in a tissue of a subject, comprising administering to the subject an effective amount of a population of stem cells (e.g., PDSC), wherein the amount is effective to alter the environmental niche of the aging stem cell such that the phenotype or proteome of the stem cell is altered as compared to the phenotype of the stem cell resident in the tissue of a control subject.
News Article | February 23, 2015
Even 10 years ago, the idea of reversing aging and conquering human mortality was still fringe science, seen as snake-oil research by most scientists, large pharmaceutical companies, and the public. What a difference a decade makes. Anti-aging science is poised to become a major industry in the biotech world. To prove its promise, the first million-dollar bet on who can live the longest (for company stock—a signed deal likely made public later this week) was recently struck. It was made last month by two leading longevity advocates at the biggest annual healthcare investing event of the year, the JPMorgan Health Care Conference. Dmitry Kaminskiy, senior partner of Hong Kong-based technology venture fund, Deep Knowledge Ventures, and Dr. Alex Zhavoronkov, PhD, CEO of bioinformatics company Insilico Medicine Inc. which specializes in drug discovery and drug repurposing for aging and age-related diseases, signed a wager to indicate exactly how sure they are that science is turning the tide against the eternal problem of human aging. The terms go like this: - If one of the parties passes away before the other, $1 million dollars in Insilico Medicine stock will be passed to the surviving party - The agreement will vest once both parties reach 100 years - Parties agree not to accelerate each other's demise (i.e. try to kill each other) "Longevity competitions may be a great way to combat both psychological and biological aging," Dr. Zhavoronkov emailed me. "I hope that we will start a trend." He sees longevity bets catching on around the world, and thinks if people will embrace competition to live longer, they may leave behind a global culture that largely accepts aging and human death as a given. Kaminskiy agrees. "I would really like to make similar bets with Bill Gates, Elon Musk or Mark Zuckerberg so they could live longer lives and create great products, but I don't think they will be worthy competitors on longevity," he wrote me in an email. "But I would like to challenge Sergey Brin and Larry Page to a similar competition due to their seemingly high interest in the sphere and Calico project." There's been a plethora of activity recently in the longevity field, also known as life extension science, the practice of trying to find ways to stop aging and disease. Its supporters are often called life extensionists, transhumanists, and immortalists, and they aim to use medical discoveries in regenerative medicine, stem cells, tissue rejuvenation, molecular repair, pharmaceuticals, and organ replacement as means to live longer. Reuters reported that Dr. Aubrey de Grey, a leading biomedical gerontologist and chief scientist at SENS Research Foundation, thinks scientists may be able to control aging in the near future, "I'd say we have a 50/50 chance of bringing aging under what I'd call a decisive level of medical control within the next 25 years or so." The last two years have seen the creation of major anti-aging companies, such as Google's Calico and J. Craig Venture's new San Diego-based genome sequencing start-up Human Longevity Inc., (co-founded with Peter Diamandis of the X-Prize Foundation and stem cell pioneer Robert Hariri) which already has 70 million dollars in financing. Billionaires like Larry Ellison and Peter Thiel are also funding research into longevity science. There's a growing stream of anti-aging studies, discoveries, and projects appearing in science journals and major media—the US political Transhumanist Party has made dedicating national resources to life extension science its top priority for Americans. "Seems like a new investment boom is coming, resembling the Dot Com boom," Kaminskiy told me. So is this kind of longevity wager just a gimmick, or can it actually help anti-aging science out? Andrew Garazha, an analyst at England-based biotechnology and regenerative medicine company Aging Analytics, who witnessed the bet and first told me about the story, explained the significance in an email: Garazha has a point about competition. Historically speaking, other competitions and bets have been made to further science and humanity's ambitions. Napolean Bonaparte offered 12,000 Franks for anyone who could learn to preserve food, something that would greatly help his far-off military campaigns. The winner was Nicolas François Appert, whose method of boiling and sealing food in bottles in 1809 led to canned food. Of course other bets, competitions, and races are more well-known: The X Prize competition, the Soviet and American race to the moon during the Cold War, and even IBM's Deep Blue beating Gary Kasparov in chess. This match-up was originally spurred by a competition, in which the IBM team won the $100,000 prize. Longevity competitions themselves may seem new and futuristic, but they have some historical precedence. A moderately popular investment annuity plan in Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries called tontines encouraged competition to live longer by giving investment funds of deceased participants to living participants. A more well-known longevity bet was made by 90-year-old Jeanne Calment and attorney Andre-Francois Raffray. The agreement was that Raffray would pay her a monthly amount of $500 while she was living—but he would inherit her apartment after she died. Given her old age, it seemed like a prudent business move. But Calment went on to become a supercentenarian, dying at 122.5 years, which is now the longest confirmed lifespan of any human being on record. Ironically, Raffray died before Calment, but not before paying double what the apartment was worth. If the bet between Kaminsky and Zharvorokov seems a like a way to generate publicity hype for longevity science, that's because it is. But like many other longevity leaders, they are not in this to for money or fame. They are doing this for a singular and extremely human reason: They don't want to die. And they want others to know that—in the 21st Century, an age spilling over with new radical science, medicine, and technology—they might not have to either. "Technology is evolving so fast," Kaminskiy said, "that I have no doubt that we will be able to live centuries instead of decades." Zoltan Istvan is the author of The Transhumanist Wager and founder of the Transhumanist Party.
News Article | September 9, 2015
Atlas Regeneration Inc, a company dedicated to developing novel software platforms and algorithms for drug discovery relating to regenerative medicine and stem cell research, has officially launched. Atlas has partnered with InSilico Medicine, a Baltimore based bioinformatics company, which employs its state of the art Geroscope platform to select and rate personalized anti-aging therapies and identify new drug candidates in longevity. Aging is an issue that effects all people around the globe universally, but as the babyboomer generation ages, the stress that it places on society becomes greater and the need develop methods for people to remain productive as they age rises in turn. Aging is a very complex multifactorial process that cannot be stopped or reversed by a simple combination of drugs, which is why it is important to develop personalized treatments tailored to individual subjects. The pharmaceutical industry needs a platform to effectively utilize and clinically implement stem cells technology. Another angle the new company is concentrating on screening and predicting the effectiveness of possible regeneration-inducing drugs in a high-throughput environment to at least slow some of the aging processes by stimulating natural tissues regeneration potential. Some of the known drugs have been on the market for many decades and only recently have scientists started finding clues to their anti-inflammation, regeneration and geroprotective effects. There is an urgent need for intelligent systems that will cost-effectively predict the effectiveness of the many drugs on individual tissue, organ and organism levels. One of the reasons why pharmaceutical companies failed to develop business models for increasing productive human longevity and organ regeneration using iPSC technology is because iPS cells have serious safety and differentiation limitation and it takes several weeks to evaluate safety and the differentiation potential of each particular cell line. “We built our platform, Regeneration Intelligence, on years of experience in regenerative medicine and pharmacology, de novo organ regeneration, body-on-the chip technology just to mention a few of them with a one single goal: develop a reliable tool to convert multi-omics data from individual patient’s tissues into unified drug score to predict the effectiveness of targeted compounds and improve clinical decision making, unified iPSC lines score to predict differentiation potential and evaluate clinical safety,” said Anthony Atala, MD, the Director of Atlas Regeneration. “We are reinventing this system for drug discovery in regeneration medicine and aging to more effectively employ big data to find solutions for aging, competing with the Google’s Calico and Human Longevity companies, to deliver hope that we may see the time when our mutual efforts will start saving lives and increase life span via regeneration in adult humans.” Some of the ideas behind the company’s bioinformatics platforms for both regeneration, iPS and aging are rather simple: analyze all available omics profiles of “cells-in-progress” (iPSC line under evaluation, cells/tissues under treatment and so on) and targeted counterpart cells in mature healthy tissues or organs, run computer simulations based on proprietary pathway map to see what drugs or treatments make the old or undifferentiated cell get as close to the norm/healthy counterparts as possible and then validate the results on human cells and model organisms. The same approach may be employed to personalize the drug regimen for individual patients. The core parts of the technology are proprietary signaling pathway map, a unique scoring algorithm along with well-developed biological models which allows us to use all-inclusive gene expression analysis, including microRNA, methylation and proteomics modules among others, and a comprehensive constantly updated drug database. About Atlas Regeneration Inc In last couple years the Atlas Regeneration team has worked hard to develop the most advanced pathway analysis algorithm (Regeneration Intelligences) and the most comprehensive scalable drug knowledge management system of annotated drugs, small molecules, biologics and all other actionable factors (Universal Signalome Atlas). For more information, please visit: http://www.AtlasRegeneration.com
News Article | April 27, 2016
One of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies has launched a massive effort to compile genome sequences and health records from two million people over the next decade. In doing so, AstraZeneca and its collaborators hope to unearth rare genetic sequences that are associated with disease and with responses to treatment. It’s an unprecedented number of participants for this type of study, says Ruth March, vice-president and head of personalized health care and biomarkers at AstraZeneca, which is headquartered in London. “That’s necessary because we’re going to be looking for very rare differences among individuals.” To achieve that ambitious goal, AstraZeneca will partner with research institutions including the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Hinxton, UK, and Human Longevity, a biotechnology company founded in San Diego, California, by genomics pioneer Craig Venter. AstraZeneca also expects to draw on data from 500,000 participants in its own clinical trials, and medical samples that it has accrued over the past 15 years. In doing so, AstraZeneca will be following a burgeoning trend in genetics research. For years, geneticists pursued common variations in human DNA sequences that are linked to complex diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. The approach yielded some important insights, but these common variations often accounted for only a small percentage of the genetic contribution to individual diseases. Researchers are now increasingly focusing on the contribution of unusual genetic variants to disease. Combinations of these variants can hold the key to an individual's traits, says Venter. The hunt for important rare variants has led AstraZeneca to partner with the Institute for Molecular Medicine Finland, says Aarno Palotie, who heads the Human Genomics Program there. Finland’s population was geographically isolated until recently, he notes, which makes for a unique genetic make-up. As a result, some variations that are very rare in other populations may be more common in Finland, making them easier to detect and study. AstraZeneca did not disclose exactly how much it would be investing in the project — “hundreds of millions of dollars” over the course of ten years was all that Menelas Pangalos, executive vice-president of the company's innovative medicines programme, would say. The company intends to use the data to inform drug development in all of its major disease areas, from diabetes to inflammation to cancer, says March. It is not the first time that a large drug company has poured money into genomics in hopes of fuelling drug discovery, notes David Goldstein, who studies human genetics at Columbia University in New York City and is an adviser to AstraZeneca. “Genomicists have for decades now been promising that genomics is going to revolutionize the way that medicines are developed and the way that medicines are used,” he says. “We are now here saying it again.” Those past efforts often disappointed, but the field has turned a corner, Goldstein adds. Genome sequencing is faster and cheaper than ever before, and researchers are armed with better bioinformatics tools to interpret the data. Advances in stem-cell biology and genome-editing methods such as CRISPR–Cas9 are making it much easier for researchers to determine how a particular change in a DNA sequence affects living cells. In all, the project should generate about 5 petabytes of data. “If you put 5 petabytes on DVDs, it would be four times the height of the Shard,” said Pangalos, referring to a nearly 310-metre London skyscraper. “If you wanted to put it on your iPod, it would take about 5,000 years to listen to it all.” Much of that data will come from Human Longevity. The company, which ultimately hopes to accrue 10 million human genomes, already has 26,000 completed and paired with medical records. Its databases also contain additional partial genome sequences. “We’re adding one about every 15 minutes on average,” Venter says. Using DNA sequence alone, Venter says that his company can now predict a person’s height, weight, eye colour and hair colour, and produce an approximate picture of their face. Much of that detail is lurking in rare sequence variations, says Venter, whose own genome has been in public databases for more than a decade. Human Longevity's databases are kept locked behind layers of security. “If I were advising a younger Craig Venter, I’d say, ‘Think carefully before you just dump your genome on the Internet’,” Venter says. “The levels of prediction are getting much more interesting.”
News Article | March 1, 2017
DUBLIN--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Research and Markets has announced the addition of the "Predictive Genetic Testing And Consumer/Wellness Genomics Market By Application And Trend Analysis From 2013 To 2025" report to their offering. The global predictive genetic testing & consumer/wellness genomics market is anticipated to reach USD 4.6 billion by 2025 Key drivers attributing to the market expansion include rising awareness pertaining to the use of genomic tests for the prediction of gene susceptibility for probability of disease development. Genetic data in the ecosystem increases when consumers buy direct-to-consumer genomics products or participate in clinical research trials. Rising encouragement for the use of these products is anticipated to propel industrial growth. Expansion in the range of consumer genetic tests by market entities is anticipated to fuel progress in the market in the coming years. Introduction of novel platforms anticipates the DNA-powered applications thus rising market penetration. Moreover, the pharmaceutical companies are also engaged in partnerships with genomics companies in order to develop novel therapeutics on the basis of genotypic and phenotypic correlations. For instance, in April 2016 a ten-year deal was signed between Human Longevity Inc. (HLI) and AstraZeneca, in which HLI is supposed to sequence 500,000 genomes of the clinical trial population of AstraZeneca. This data is to be used for the identification of novel drug targets. The deal also provides AstraZeneca with access to the proprietary knowledgebase in order augment biomarker discovery, and facilitate drug development. Further Key Findings from the Study Suggest: For more information about this report visit http://www.researchandmarkets.com/research/26mxz4/predictive
News Article | March 24, 2016
If synthetic biology has a rockstar, it’s Craig Venter, and he’s back with a new hit. Venter and his team say they’ve created one of the simplest organisms theoretically possible using a combination of genetic engineering techniques, in-lab DNA-synthesis, and trial-and-error. The work, published Thursday in Science, describes a self-replicating bacterium invented by Venter and his team that contains just 437 genes, a “genome smaller than that of any autonomously replicating cell found in nature,” according to the paper. The work sheds light on the function of the individual genes necessary to have life, and it also shows us just how little we actually know about specific gene functions. “We have long been interested in simplifying the genomic software of a bacterial cell by eliminating genes that are nonessential for cell growth under ideal conditions in the laboratory,” Venter wrote in the paper. “This facilitates the goal of achieving an understanding of the molecular and biological function of every gene that is essential for life.” A study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information in 1995 suggested that a genome that coded the most basic lifeform would be roughly 256 genes. Venter said in a conference call with reporters that “everybody was off—by a third.” The team says that 149 of the genes have unknown functions, but were nonetheless necessary for the organism to grow and replicate. For comparison, E. Coli and other well-understood genes have roughly 5,000 genes. “We now know, in the end result, that 32 percent of the genes required for life in this most simple of all organisms are of unknown function,” Venter said. “If we don't understand the functions of a third of those genes—you know we're also involved in depth in analyzing the human genome with 20,000-some-odd genes, most of which we have no known function for. So I think these findings are very humbling in that regard.” So what does this all mean? Venter says his team and others will now work on identifying the purpose of some of the genes with unknown functions, and Daniel Gibson, a researcher who works at the J. Craig Venter Institute said that this work will ultimately lead to the creation of synthetic life with specific purposes, such as producing cheap biofuel and creating new medicines. “Our long-term vision has been to design and build synthetic organisms on demand, where you can add in specific functions and predict what the outcome is going to be,” Gibson said. You may remember Venter as one of the leaders of the Human Genome Project, or the first scientist to ever transfer a synthetic genome into a living cell and have it continue to function (the first synthetic life ever, many argue). He’s also friends with Elon Musk, with whom he casually talks about printing synthetic life on Mars to terraform the planet, and he’s cofounder of Human Longevity, which is dedicated to extending the human lifespan using genetics. These new findings make his more outlandish claims seem ever so slightly more attainable, but it’s important to recognize just how painstaking and slow this work was. Venter says he’s been working on the project off and on for 20 years, and that, essentially, the organism he’s dubbed JCBI Syn 3.0 was the result of some very sophisticated trial-and-error. At first, the team tried to model life using computer software alone, but found that when they actually went to synthesize the organism, it never worked. “Every one of our designs failed,” he said. And so the team took its original synthetic life, called SYN 1.0, and started knocking out and adding back in genes as necessary. The team found that it would regularly knock out a gene it thought to be “inessential,” only to find that, when they knocked out an analogous gene, the bacterium couldn’t survive. Venter likened it to a Boeing 747 plane—you can take out one engine and have it still fly, but if you take out both, the plane crashes. “That’s what happened over and over again, where we would have what appeared to be a non-essential component until we removed its counterpart,” he said. Only genes that were required for the bacterium to survive—not those that are required for it to thrive, such as specific growth genes—were included. Venter noted that, though this is a “minimal” bacterial genome, it is not necessarily the minimum, because other types of life may exist, and a couple of growth-related genes were kept in because it “had to grow at a sufficient pace to be a good experimental model.” “A typical experiment took three months, and so this study would have taken probably another five years if we didn’t insist on rapid growth,” he said. We’re still in the early days of synthetic biology, and it’s anyone’s guess when truly synthetic life will be used in an applied sense versus a lets-learn-more-about-the-basics-of-life sense, but increasingly impressive feats are being accomplished on a semi-yearly basis at this point. Venter created the first artificial life in 2010; in 2014, Floyd Romesberg of the Scripps Research Institute created synthetic life using DNA base pairs that are not found in nature; and genetic editing tools like CRISPR-Cas9 are being used in laboratories big and small to fundamentally alter DNA. These findings suggest that the definition of “life” is actively changing as we manipulate its code. It’s no surprise, then, that in the paper Venter regularly refers to the “genome” as “a piece of software.” “We view life as DNA software-driven,” Venter said. “And we're showing that by trying to understand that software, we're going to get better understandings of life.”