J. Craig Venter Debuts Elite Testing Service Via Health Nucleus

Xconomy San Diego — 

In a move that takes concierge medicine to a whole new level, human genome pioneer J. Craig Venter on Tuesday unveiled a venture that combines whole genome sequencing with advanced clinical technologies to provide comprehensive health exams for self-paying customers.

The venture, called Health Nucleus, was formed as part of Human Longevity Inc., also known as HLI, the company Venter founded 19 months ago (with an initial $70 million in venture funding) to provide whole genome sequencing and other diagnostic services.

Health Nucleus has access to HLI's 24 HiSeqX genome sequencing machines

Health Nucleus has access to HLI’s 24 HiSeqX genome sequencing machines

Venter opened the doors of the first Health Nucleus clinic at HLI’s San Diego headquarters this morning, saying the use of whole genome sequence analysis, quantitative medical imaging, and machine learning will provide new insights about individual health and disease risk. Additional Health Nucleus facilities are scheduled to open next year in the U.S. and abroad, according to a statement from HLI.

“We’re trying to focus our efforts on the diseases that kill people—cancer, heart disease, and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s,” said Pamila Brar, medical director of Health Nucleus. She was previously affiliated with the Private Internal Medicine Center at Scripps Clinic in La Jolla, and has had her own concierge practice in internal medicine since 2009.

Top executives and others who come to Health Nucleus for their annual physical will receive a battery of medical tests, including many that are not FDA-approved because they are so new (and unproven), said Brar, who is the current president of the American Academy of Private Physicians.

Health Nucleus was able to sidestep FDA restrictions on the clinical use of experimental tests by operating—at least initially—as a clinical research project under Institutional Research Board (IRB) protocols, Brar said.

A comprehensive workup at Health Nucleus would include:

—Whole genome sequencing of all 6 billion DNA base pairs (According to Health Nucleus, most DNA tests today examine less than 2 percent of the entire human genome.)

—Genome sequencing of the microbiome—the microorganisms that live in the human gut and on the skin.

—Metabolome sequencing of the small-molecule metabolites found in the human body.

—Whole-body medical imaging with advanced MRI (medical resonance imaging) from GE that enables Health Nucleus to quantify the exact volumes of unhealthy visceral fat, the various components of the brain and other tissues that may reveal the progress of disease. For example, HealthNucleus uses software from San Diego-based CorTech that analyzes MRI images to quantify the atrophy of brain structures, which can help diagnose traumatic brain injury, Alzheimer’s disease and other neural disorders.

—Customized laboratory tests and screenings.

Physicals at Health Nucleus include whole body MRI scans

Physicals at Health Nucleus include whole body MRI scans

Using MRI data, Health Nucleus can quantify the exact volumes of unhealthy visceral fat and tissues that may reveal the progress of disease

Using MRI data, Health Nucleus can quantify the exact volumes of unhealthy visceral fat and tissues that may reveal the progress of disease

Health Nucleus has access to 24 Illumina HiSeqX genome sequencing machines at HLI that represent one of the largest sequencing facilities in the United States, Venter said. Data from Health Nucleus customers will be “de-identified” and incorporated into the HLI Knowledgebase, which Health Nucleus describes as the most comprehensive database of whole genome, phenotype, and clinical data.

“Our goal here is to build out the world’s most important database for the human genome,” Venter explained.

Using machine learning to correlate genomic data with patient data will enable healthcare to be more proactive, preventative, and predictive, Venter said.

While private clinics already abound throughout the United States—many are affiliated with prestigious medical centers like the Cleveland Clinic, Duke University, and the Mayo Clinic— Venter insisted, “There’s nothing out there with executive physicals that can compete with what we do.”

Executives and others who arrive for a Health Nucleus checkup would pay $25,000 or $50,000 each, depending on the number of people in the group and the level of testing and analysis they’re seeking, Venter said.

Venter said HLI also has been working to democratize genomic sequencing technologies under an agreement with Discovery, a health insurer based in South Africa. In September, HLI said it would provide whole exome, whole genome, and cancer genome sequencing for $250 to over 200 million members insured by Discovery in South Africa and the United Kingdom.

“We’re trying to start at both ends, and not just be a program for the wealthy,” Venter said.