Human Longevity Hires Data Scientist Away from Microsoft

Xconomy San Diego — 

David Heckerman, a computational biologist who led the genomics team at Microsoft over the last several years, has joined Human Longevity Inc. (HLI), the San Diego startup with the ambitious goal of creating the world’s most comprehensive database of human genomic information.

Heckerman, a medical doctor with multiple degrees in computer science, physics, and mathematics, will lead an advanced analytics team at HLI’s Mountain View, CA, office, according to a statement today from the company. He will report to J. Craig Venter, the human genome pioneer who co-founded HLI and now serves as executive chairman.

Heckerman steps into a role that was previously held by Franz Och, who left his job as HLI’s chief data scientist late last year to join Grail, the Bay Area startup founded by San Diego-based Illumina (NASDAQ: ILMN) to develop a blood test for cancer. Before that, Och gained recognition at Google as the chief architect of Google Translate. He left Google in mid-2014 to join HLI.

HLI hired Heckerman not only because he is an expert in machine learning, but also due to his deep experience and knowledge about genomics, HLI spokeswoman Heather Kowalski wrote in an e-mail this morning. “He’s the full package in one person,” she said.

At Microsoft, Heckerman led the company’s first research team to focus on machine learning and produced Microsoft’s first content-based spam filter and other software tools. Later, he led the first research team to focus on computational biology, designing a vaccine for HIV as well as many algorithms for biology and health, with increasing emphasis over time on genomics.