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Dr. J. Craig Venter fights against aging with genomics sequencing

At Vator Splash Health 2017, Human Longevity co-founder sits down with Steve Jurvetson of DFJ

Entrepreneur interview by Mitos Suson
January 22, 2018
Short URL: http://vator.tv/n/4ade

Staying human while becoming immortal; A baby born today can expect to live twice as long as one born in the 19th century. We’ve come a long way. But will building the biggest database of genotypes and phenotypes to understand age-related diseases help us to live longer? When will we become the ageless generation and what are the economic and social implications?   



J. Craig Venter, PhD, Co–Founder and Executive Chairman, Human Longevity, Inc. spoke with Steve Jurvetson, Partner, DFJ at Vator Splash Health 2017. Here's the transcript. 

Jurvetson: Thanks for joining us today Doctor Venter. As you heard, I’ve had the great honor for almost a decade now, actually over a decade now to work with you.(Let me get this plant out of the way) Primarily, Synthetic Genomics and secondarily the HLI (Human Longevity Inc) and ah –

Dr. Venter: Thank you.

Jurvetson: Everyone here knows this has been a pioneer in the field of genomics from the sequences in first two genomes which not surprisingly was his. And then the first diploid full sequence and a number of other things which we’ll get into. So perhaps it’s a transition. I’d love to hear a bit about what’s new and exciting, the developments of late because that’s often what I find most interesting. But if I may, just to set the stage, can you share with us some of your thoughts on why HLI exist? Why is there an opportunity or a need in your point to view to approach health care or aging or longevity from a  different perspective than traditional biotech companies might?

Dr. Venter: That’s a good question because it kind of evolved into what we’re doing. So 15 years ago or 17 years ago, now when we sequenced the first genome it cost a $100,000,000.00 Million and took 9 months to do. So, it was not a very replicable event. When people winded up to get their genome sequenced like they’re to go to space. So since they’ve been waiting and has certain criteria set and three years ago, they were past. Sequencing got below $2,000 a genome, computing totally changed so with the distributed cloud computing it made it possible to do the kind of computing that was needed. Then Machine Learning sort of became much more of age and we combined the three together. The notion being to understand the three percent difference in all of this, we would need very large number of Genomes all with attached phenotype information.

And so we set up what we called the health nucleus as means of just getting lots of very precise phenotype data. And we’re stunned almost immediately when we started - it was all healthy people that were coming and paying $25,000.00 to get a workup - that 40% of them had something significantly wrong. Many cancers, brain aneurysms, things that nobody could detect when they were early on and so the practice of medicine today is, you wait till you have symptoms and you go to see somebody to try and sort out what those symptoms mean. And with cancer, it’s usually detected after it’s metastasized and is causing pain or disruption or some function somewhere. So with the health nucleus we’re discovering cancers at stage zero, stage one and a couple at stage two but all before they’ve metastasized. 

Jurvetson: Is this imaging analysis that typically –

Dr. Venter: For that it’s all imaging analysis that we have a wholly unique MRI technique that basically lights up malignant tumors by measuring the water molecule difference in tissues and so tumors cells have slightly bigger nuclei. They have more water but the water is less mobile, so it shows up totally different than the normal cells. So it’s totally unique and our lead radiologist has a 100% batting average now on everyone he’s diagnosed has been confirmed to be a serious tumor. It’s totally, was unexpected to us but looking at the data, it shouldn’t have been unexpected. So I can’t see the age of the audience totally clearly but people today if you’re sort of between 40 and older and a male, 40% of you will never reach the age of one – of 74. So I can’t tell, if it must be 300 people here and if it’s all males it means 120 of you will not reach the age of 74. Statistics are better for females, 84% won’t reach the age of 74.

So the discoveries we were making all of the sudden became not so surprising and it was more surprising that’s not how medicine was practiced. Because it was very easy to treat these tumors when you discover them early. Our goal was just to have this data to be able to interpret the genome so we could predict things very accurately in the future and we’re combining them very successfully. But it’s turned into phenomenal early diagnostic can people think that they’re healthy. So the definition of health is so bizarre. It  probably hasn’t changed since the Middle Ages. “If you don’t have any symptoms and if you feel and look okay, you’re deemed by the health system to be healthy.” We now have a system we can tell you whether you’re healthy or not. 

Jurvetson: The positive side of normal? 

Dr. Venter: That’s right. At the current time and predict what it’s going to be. We can predict whether you’ll get Alzheimer’s 20 years before you have the first symptoms using a combination of Genomics and the MRI imaging. So it’s an exciting difference and so when we talk about longevity it’s in the context of the close to 200 people that won’t reach the age of 74. 

Jurvetson: Do you think about the work you’re doing and how it actually promotes longevity? I can understand the early detection of a problem and presumably the excision of that tumor and dealing with it long before normal symptoms would show up and how that’s life prolonging. Is there any other learning that you expect to come or is it already starting to come in terms of advise of how to live a healthier life? How to go on to the positive side of normal? Is it correlation studies or are there some ways that you’re pushing that?

Dr. Venter: One of the most predictive paremeters of how well somebody will do as they age is their muscle mass. So not BMI but actual muscle mass so because if you get too weak and you become immobile and you keep doing less and less because you’re too weak. It’s a very rapid decline. But I think it’s more interesting when you look at why those numbers of people are not reaching the age of 74. Two thirds of the reasons are cancer and heart disease, slightly more cancer in woman, slightly more heart disease in men and both are predictable and detectable meta stage where they can resolve then greatly prolonging people’s lives. So that will change the life’s statistics and a healthy outcome and we’re getting each time with the machine learning and the correlation between what we’re finding in the clinic and the Genome. We’re every day improving the predictability just from the Genome. So the cheapest route is to do a full genome sequence and use that as a triage tool, it’s not a 100% but you probably capture 60 or 70% of the major risk for cancer, major risk for heart disease but the limitations are much of the scientific literature is wrong.

The government databases one called ClinVar that people used for analyzing the Genome. Thirty to 40% of it is just junk and so you can’t get a right answer with any of these things. So we’re trying to re-do the entire system. We have over 40 thousands genomes now and so we’re starting to get very accurate data on haplotypes and allele frequency so we can detect whether something is rare. The rare it is, the more likely it is to be associated with a Traitor disease. So it’s getting pretty excited and then the tools are changing very fast in this space. We talked about remote monitoring and things. So there just a simple patch we give people. They wear it for two weeks and it continually records your EKG. Pulses are so useful but EKG is and we found, we’re now five people that had episodic atrial fibrillation for up to eight hours a day. 

Jurvetson: But you wouldn’t detect it if you didn’t…?

Dr. Venter: And they were completely unaware of it. Most people become aware of that if their heart starts beating really fast but maybe this happens while they’re sleeping or something. But Afib is one of the big risk factors for stroke because clots sort of occur in the atrium while its quivering and so those people have been put right away on an anticoagulants and we had one person who had second degree heart block and was completely unaware of it. So he was sudden cardiac death just waiting to happen. So he was in on a Friday, we didn’t wait till Monday to tell him. And he was immediately put on a pace maker. So remote devices and remote sensing, I think are going to impact the space in the future quite a bit with an iPhone diagnose Gait and diagnose Parkinson’s disease. We have a slightly fancier version. We have electronic floor that people walk across. It measures exact pressure of your toe and your heel and your balance and you can diagnose a lot from that in terms of stability. Fifth part of the neurological test but there hasn’t been one of the test we do that hasn’t turned out something significant in people. Aneurysms were one of biggest surprises. 

Jurvetson: Brain aneurysms?

Dr. Venter: Well Brain aneurysms but just aneurysms in general and it turns out doing some work on this one in fifty people have aneurysms and don’t know it. Usually people discover they have a brain aneurysm because they have a sudden massive stroke and die. It’s not a very good diagnostic tool but almost everybody knows somebody that’s died from a brain aneurysm at some stage. So, or they get discovered because they were part of a study looking at something else in the brain. 

Jurvetson: So they become start to balloon out long before they become fatal and you can detect that?

Dr. Venter: Yes. They sit there like on an inner tube like a bleb sticking out there so it’s a weak point and if they burst, its just a massive bleed and depending where they are, you know. There is almost nothing you can do about it. But they’re easy to treat now so with intervention in radiology, they’re treated as an out patient and spent thirty minutes – 

Jurvetson: Put little wires in there?

Dr. Venter: Put a little coil in there and that eliminates the risk. So you know, having that kind of risk for sudden death and there’s no way you would know without a brain MRI. But the nice thing we do, we don’t use any contrast media because of these new techniques that are just unbelievable. 

Jurvetson: So the examples that you give sound like cutting edge imaging and other –What forms of imaging of all sorts and running tests on people who don’t present with symptoms and discovering things. That itself is advancing medicine in a way that traditional methods might not have discovered.

Dr. Venter: But then it’s very controversive with a lot of physicians. They consider it wrong to do tests on healthy people and my response is how do you know they’re healthy? Forty percent of them aren’t healthy. 

Jurvetson: Is that what you’re finding?

Dr. Venter: Yeah. One in 40, we’re finding significant cancer but before it’s metastasized. So that means if we just screened everybody here, we would find a major tumor in at least eight of you, right? To me, those are worthwhile screens to do. Other people argue economically that they’re not but the costs of these tests are getting cheaper and cheaper. For those where we find the tumors, we’ve lots of letters thanking us for saving their lives. It’s really important in terms of prostate cancer because this new technique only detects high grade prostate tumors. So there’s two kinds of prostate cancers: the kind you die with and the kind you die from.So the high grade tumors are the kind you die from and we’ve diagnosed four of these now. Three of the men had no symptoms and normal PSAs.

So they never would have even done an exam. They were high graded enough that within the next six months to a year, they would have definitely metastasized. The capsule was starting to break. I mean, these were seriously high grade tumors. The fourth one was me, which was a real surprise and I had elevated PSAs. I had biopsies and they were all negative so I was totally confident that I didn’t have prostate cancer or if I had it, it was some low grade version. And with the new MRI, I’m usually the test subject for things. It turned out I had a very high grade prostate tumor and shortly after I had it removed. And 3 or 4 months later, now I am completely cancer free. But we didn’t understand, I couldn’t understand from my Genome why I had a high grade prostate cancer. I had no oncogenes that were mutated that would increase risk for cancer.

It just shows we have a very limited view of what a oncogene is. Early on, I had the melanoma but knew how to detect those and detected it very early and just had it removed and it hadn’t penetrated the dermis so that was it. But you wouldn’t consider behavorial genes part of risk for melanoma but it is. I spent every bit of my life that I could under sun either sailing or surfing or swimming or something and whatever genes that cause that behavior aren’t consider oncogenes, but they should. But we couldn’t figure out the prostate cancer so we looked in the androgen pathway and so our androgen receptors on the X-chromosome and it turns out it’s a triplet repeat gene so they’re CAG repeats in the androgen receptor. And if you have 22 or more of these CAG repeats, your risk of prostate cancer is extremely low. So if you have less than 22 repeats it gets higher and higher. I only had 6 repeats, only the lowest number, so the lower number of repeats that causes a huge over expression of the androgen receptor. People always said I had balls of steel for all the risk I’ve taken. Now we’ve found the molecular basis of that I only have six repeats on my androgen receptor. 

Jurvetson: Your sex hormoes are all whacked – 

Dr. Venter: But what it means is, you know hormonal response or balance between the hormone concentration and the receptor concentration. So if you have over expression of the receptor just small amounts of hormones cause maximum activation. It’s probably why I went bald by age 21 and adrenaline has always been my favorite drug and I can probably attribute all that to those six repeats that gave me a greatly increased risk for prosthetic cancer. Even though my genome has been on the internet for 15 years, nobody knew this. Nobody looked at it. We now screen people for that. And if it is a risk factor and nobody would consider that and any pattern as a risk factor for prostate cancer but it’s a direct coorelation.

Jurvetson: So this is an interesting example of how the genome and these correlation studies are increasingly becoming more rich. In other words you have this data set now for 40 thousand people and growing. You have some phenotypic information and that’s growing. And I guess it seems sort of obvious that as time goes on, all of these people could have an enriched experience because you go back retrospectively once you’ve learned new things.

Dr. Venter: We send people updates every year on their genome or sooner if we discover it but it’s really changing our interpretation very quickly at the genome and the machine learning. The best example of that is, we did a study with a thousand people where we took 3D photos of their faces and then we used those as a [inaudible] set to see if we could predict somebody’s face just from their genetic code and it’s getting pretty good. So if you just had a set of photos most people can pick out one out of ten pretty readily but it’s just a face mask right now.

Jurvetson: Without the hair, of course.

Dr. Venter: So if you look at people around you their main characteristic isn’t just their face mask. It’s their hair style, skin tone, all kind of things. And so we’re getting from all the MRI images we’re getting so we can predict the shape of the skull. 

Jurvetson: It’s amazing.

Dr. Venter: Adding ears seems to help etc. So the predictions are getting better but we can absolutely identify anybody now just from their genetic code. 

Jurvetson: It’s preposterous to think about the forensic science potential here. The police have a snippet of the DNA at a crime scene. Who is it? Well!

Dr. Venter: Well it’s a combination of the photo so if we get a genome report from us you get your predicted photo. By the way your photo is predicted roughly just post puberty. We had no idea what age, your genome would predict, what you would look like. But it sort of a sexual maturity which I guess makes sense and we predict your height, your weight, your eye color, your hair color and I don’t know if any of you watch the Chelsea Handler show. She wanted her genome sequence and I had to go on her show live to give her report. And I said your genome predicts that you will weigh 166 pounds. And her response was, “Fuck you!” And I said, “Look some people exceed their genome potential, some people don’t probably fulfill it, so –”

Jurvetson: Always a charmer.

Dr. Venter: I said if you work at it, you can define your Genome but she was not pleased with that prediction. So we get all these characteristics but it’s getting so now because of information on the internet and a study was done just with a Y-chromosome haplotype and this group did a study using my genome. You can take a Y-chromosome haplotype and go to the internet and usually find a site with a surname associated with that haplotype. So if you just have two bits of information for a male Y-chromosome haplotype and age. You have a very reasonable chance to working out who that person is so just those two bits of data.

Jurvetson: Why is this? Because I think I’ve seen my haplotype and I didn’t know if that’s discriminative like is that… or you go way down? You’re not just looking at the level at a 23 meter at National Geographic.

Dr. Venter: No. It’s the definitive haplotype and groups have formed around different haplotypes with the same surname and so most of the Venters in the US have all had their at least Y chromosome haplotype sequenced to find out whose related to who? But this is increasing more and more with, your chances are better 50% of finding a surname just from that. But now that we have faces and we have all these other characteristics, the more diverse your ethnicity the easier the predictions. The most difficult ones to predict are northern Europeans. So apparently what people have been saying about us all along is that we all look alike. It’s kind of true when you try to make discriminations at the genetic level but your Genome defines you uniquely and precisely despite what the government says. The government tells people that the NIH can de-identify your genome and protect your identity. 

Jurvetson: I believed that for a second.

Dr. Venter: It never made sense but now we’ve proven with that kind of thing. So, machine learning is extremely valuable and getting more and more powerful as we find these commonality in clinical data sets to go right to the genome to find what is the cause of that ailment? And so, our goal is over the next decade to solve the nature side of the nature nurture equation. The environments is almost most infinite so if you try just to measure everything in the environment, it’s something you can never solve it. But we should be able to determine everything that’s absolutely genetic or it has a major genetic component and this gets very interesting when it gets into sociology of brain types, personality thought types, sexual preferences, sexual identity, etc. 

Jurvetson: Do you think in that same time, 10 year time frame that therapy, gene-therapy is for either adult modification or gene cell modification or both will be coming?

Dr. Venter: So everybody first thought after we sequenced the genome and you can know what the defect and the spelling is for disease that gene therapy will be the magic thing. You just go correct the spelling. In Gene therapy, in gene editing would be great if we were a giant single celled amoeba, be kind of messy.

[Crosstalk] 

Jurvetson: One thing to fix.

Dr. Venter: But we have a hundred trillion cells and the reason Gene therapy has pretty much failed except with some specialized cases is, it’s been almost impossible to get the correction of that spelling in every one of a hundred trillion cells under the right regulation and the same is going to be true with Genome editing. Cells that we can take out of a body and this has been true for gene therapy as well so Xgeva therapy you take blood cells out. You can modify them out. You can take stem cells out and modify them and give them back.

There looks like some success and there’s been one case but it’s only one case and not long enough to see whether it’s going to last. Changing, doing some editing on some but his bone marrow cells with the Sickle cell disease and giving those modified bone marrow cells back and the person seems at least to be free of Sickle cell disease right now. So it’s not clear how long that will last, if there’s enough stem cells that were modified to make that last. So the only kind of editing that will make a difference will be germ line editing before you’re born. 

Jurvetson: For the next generation.

Dr. Venter: For the next generation and right now that’s pure experimentation and in post WWII after all the Nazi atrocities there were sort of a worldwide ban on direct human experimentation without building up and doing safety models first and knowing exactly what will happen. So CRISPR, when people talk about the news, they kind of leave off a key detail that it has lots of off target effects. So, you can use it to try and edit a single base but it’s kind of randomly editing a lot of other things that you don’t know what it’s doing. And so, it’s great as the laboratory tool. It’s great as the research tool. It’s a phenomenal advance but I don’t think people will be going into a clinic soon to undergoing a CRISPR modification to change. 

Jurvetson: So perhaps if you have a tiny subset of your genome in a lab Xgeva case, but you never apply to the entire group.

Dr. Venter: That’s right. So, it’s going to follow the route of gene therapy as my guess of a lot of hype and hope around it but people are going to find it’s hard to impossible –

Jurvetson: [Crosstalk] So, if it’s not that something that you’re enthusiastic about because I’ve got to imagine you think about where the diagnostics insights and the application of machine learning compounding that insight can lead to better change: change your environment, change your diet, and perhaps change the microbial? Do you think that scenario, where we’ll see great progress?

Dr. Venter: Well, the things that everybody preaches of getting exercise and having a reasonable diet and not being obese, those things all make sense. None of these will tell you whether you have cancer, whether you have heart disease, whether you’re likely to have a heart disease. The smart things to do for everybody but you have to do these new things on top of it to really understand your health. So, you can take all the vitamin supplements in the world and exercise every day and you can still have a giant tumor growing in your lungs that you don’t know about.

And so, we have to use the modern tools of science to see things that help predict the future or detect things. The tumors that eight people here have that they may not know about for one to five years till they get big enough and they metastasize to cause them pain or some kind of symptom. It really simplifies and changes people life. You detect it early, you get rid of it. And as long as you’re doing these other things of getting exercise and not smoking, you know, the obvious things that everybody predicts and preaches. They’re necessary but not sufficient. We have to use modern knowledge, modern tools to really understand our health. 

Jurvetson: So far, we’ve been talking almost entirely about Human Longevity Inc. Your prior company was also doing quite a bit in human health. What’s some exciting new work going on there that you can share with us?

Dr. Venter: So, one that’s related to human health and to CRISPRs is – 

Jurvetson: [Crosstalk] Heads up, so while he’s answering if anyone wants to ask a question? Is it these mics? Is that how we are going to do it? Feel free to come up to the mic and then I’ll know that someone in the audience has a question. So, I’ll turn to you, great! So, go ahead.

Dr. Venter: We’ve been working with United Therapeutics. We have been editing the genome of pigs substituting human genes for pig genes so that genome transplantation can be used to help the million people in the U.S. that die each year from the lack of organs for transplantation. 

Jurvetson: You’re humanizing a pig?

Dr. Venter: We’re trying to humanize a pig and we have some jokes on this. I used to call it “The Sarah Palin” project. 

Jurvetson: Lipstick and all?

Dr. Venter: Yeah. But that’s so passé because she’s – 

Jurvetson: She’s kind of faded away.

Dr. Venter: She’s kind of faded away and all the latest noise but we’re editing a number of key genes and changing parts of the immune system, etc. So, we have hearts that lasts over a year now in baboons 

Jurvetson: So that’s been done in baboons?

Dr. Venter: Yeah. So in synthetic genomics we make new humanized pig cells. United Therapeutics takes those and does nuclear transplantation, just popping out the nuclei and puts it into a pig embryonic cell. Then they grew up like pigs from and they do breeding so they have multiple ones of those and then they use these organs for testing for transplantation, and there’s about 20 parts, everything’s for muscles and tendons to heart valves. People been using pig heart valves but we think the ones we have particularly will help children. They’ll grow with the child. Children that have heart valve replacements have to have multiple open heart surgeries. So we think these will just grow and last with the child. 

Jurvetson: But all kinds, I mean heart, lungs everything – 

Dr. Venter: That’s right. The lungs were the most difficult and that was the motivation of Martin Rothschild who is the CEO and help fund all this. But we have lungs, they usually didn’t last more than a couple minutes. So we have some up now to 48 hours which doesn’t sound great but compared to where we started. So lung is the most difficult tissues but kidneys, hearts, livers, it’s all looking good. 

Jurvetson: That’s great. Everyone probably knows there’s a huge shortage of transplants from the famous people waiting their whole life and unto death for a transplant.

Dr. Venter: So even if hearts only lasts a year that keeps somebody alive for a year while maybe they move up on the transplant list or we get them so they last five years. 

Jurvetson: Great. We’ll start over here and we’ll go back and forth. 

Dave: Hi. Dave Mark. Big fan of what you’re doing with HLI. In fact, I was the second person through your CT scanner after you, day after. 

Dr. Venter: Okay. Oh well. Obviously you’re looking healthy so you must be healthy. 

Dave: Yeah, now I am looking healthy. I’m actually one of the lucky few definitely on the right side of that 40%. My question is the degree of genetic diversity that you’re getting in your database. To what extent do you try to force that diversity and maybe start to broaden out from whose coming in over the transplant if you will, and how do you ensure that you’re getting as broad a view of human genetic diversity in your database?

Dr. Venter: That was a good question. When we look at the range of ethno geographic populations recover. It’s extremely diverse which is surprising but people flying from all the world to go through this process. We constantly want to get more diversity but we saturated the common alleles of the human population at around 8000 genomes. So these are the things you get on a 23andME chip or other things. So, if we sequence anybody’s genome now we’d find around 8000 variants that would be totally unique to you. And it’s the rare variants that the ones that are totally unique to you that are going to be key for defining your traits and possibly your diseases. So that diversity –

Jurvetson: [Crosstalk] Literally unique to that one individual?

Dr. Venter: Yeah 

Jurvetson: Just within your sample or do you think unique within the population?

Dr. Venter: Well, right now it’s unique within the forty thousand database sample. The number of these is getting so high. I think we’re over 80 million totally unique variants. Some of those will be shared with a few others. But the number of unique ones keeps going up as we sequence more and more people. So when you think of it, so when we sequenced – they’re actually my sperm. Sequencing every sperm cell gave a different answer, no two are alike. 

Jurvetson: Every sperm is special.

Dr. Venter: Yeah. And I don’t have eggs but we got them from others and no two eggs are alike. So, every time you combine a sperm with an egg, it’s totally a unique experiment. It’s just a random crop shoot every single time and then on top of that, we all have several hundred to several thousand unique random variants that occur at us. So the uniqueness of each of us is truly measurable. We can measure identical twins. They are slightly different from each other. Just some sematic variations when you go from one cell to a hundred trillion cells, that’s why they don’t have the same fingerprints. 

Jurvetson: Copying errors.

Dr. Venter: Copying errors and just you know, one population gets separated. So, as we understand that uniqueness we would able to predict more and more about each of our lives. It’s getting to be truly interesting and when we can apply this to animals like pigs, I think that will help solve some medical issues but eventually we’ll be able to go the other way. 

Jurvetson: Excellent. Great. How about over here?

David: Good afternoon. Thank you, Steve and Craig for being here and for sharing your valuable time with us. I’m David and I grew up in a family business at age 13. The family business was a slaughter house so we donated pig parts to Pfizer, so I can relate to what you’re doing there. I’ll get to my question. 

Dr. Venter: I think they ate them though.

[Laughter]

David: You think Pfizer ate them? 

Jurvetson: The Cafeteria supply. 

David: So, can you briefly explain to some of us who aren’t as familiar with genetics testing, the value chain? In other words, there’s a testing company, Interpretation Company and there’s application like how does that value chain work and most importantly how does that fit into the economic models of healthcare today and especially the concept of early detection and like you said, testing before we think there might be a problem? How does that fit into the economic model as we have today or going forward? 

Dr. Venter: Rather than the human longevity it doesn’t fit into too many people’s models and all. So we’re one of the first few places that does the complete accurate genome to the 30x coverage and put it in a data base to compare to all the others. But we link it in every case to phenotype in clinical information. So, we’ve done some work with a number of mathematicians doing some models on this in terms of the kinds of discoveries we’re saving, making – the net equations should save the economy literally trillions of dollars. The trouble is working out that medic equation is going to be very difficult because there are some people whose lives and livelihood is the traditional practice of medicine that don’t like detecting things early taking away what they do. 

Jurvetson: Downstream revenue?

Dr. Venter: So, lot of people make money, huge number of people make money off of the sick population. So, we’re trying to deal with wellness. We’re dealing only with people who are apparently healthy and trying to keep them healthy versus being a disease oriented effort. So third party payers don’t yet exist in this space. Insurance companies are looking at it. Life insurance companies like it so when you get life insurance, you’re betting against yourself to life insurance companies betting you’re going to live longer. We have the data to in fact sort out what reality is. So, we just announce the big deal with the life insurance company that’s encouraging its clients to come get their genome sequenced. Life Insurance Company doesn’t get the data. It just goes to the client hoping that they’ll use it to improve their health status.

One major life insurance company that has 30-50-100 million dollars policies is actually offering to pay its clients to go through the health nucleus because – you know, it’s pretty easy to do the math and track one of their early people going through that we discovered a tumor in. So who probably had a least a $30,000,000.00 life insurance policy. Had we not discovered this tumor that he had no symptoms for; it was removed a week later. He’s completely cancer free. If it was discovered because it metastasized, he probably would have been dead before he’s 55. Now he’ll probably live to be 90 unless he get run over by a car. It’s not hard to do the net percent value of $30,000,000.00 over a 30 years plus, he’s still paying the premium. 

Jurvetson: That’s the most important part.

Dr. Venter: So, you can see for life insurance, it’s a very simple equation. You want to live a long time. They want you to live a long time. They’re now catching on that makes sense for them to help you live a long time. Health insurance isn’t quite so smart yet so –

Jurvetson: Great. This will be our last question.

Dave: Yeah just a quick follow on. You talked about DNA sequencing and MRI and the review of those. What is the cost?

Dr. Venter: So right now, what the health nucleus it’s $25,000.00 for this comprehensive analysis that includes comprehensive brain analysis with something called neurocon, whole body MRI, CT scan for calcium in your heart, 4D echo, a neurological test, whole genome, metabolome, microbiome so it’s as comprehensive as you can get. That’s $25,000.00 and it takes eight hours to collect all that data. We’re working and we’ll be announcing sometime soon an exciting new version of this that’s dramatically cheaper based on some exciting new technology that we’re helping make available. So we’re likely to be opening massive smaller versions. The new version will collect everything in less than two hours. 

Jurvetson: Same data set?

Dr. Venter: Pretty much the same data set only with some exciting new technologies. We’re trying to drive the cost down so more people can participate. 

Jurvetson: Fantastic. Well Dr. Venter, thank you so much for coming here today.

Dr. Venter: We never tell that to our patients. Time’s up.

Jurvetson: Time’s up. It’s over. 

[Laughter]

Jurvetson: Thank you 

Francisco: Thank you so much. That was fantastic. I’m going to put you both on the spot here because we had such a rich conversation about advancements in genomics trail blazed by you of course. Then we start talking a little bit about policy or at least some sort of insurance bringing the business side of it. So today was supposed to be the day that the house was supposed vote on the Republican clan. So my question is, if you were the advisor, President Trump calls you both in and saying, "We would really like to advance some of the work you’re doing and we really think its preventative. We need to get more people screened." What would be one policy advice you would give to him? 

Dr. Venter: Please resign

[Laughter] 

Jurvetson: Hard to beat that. I probably should just leave it at that.

Dr. Venter: Let me give you a medical answer. So the most important part about what President Obama did was the no preexisting conditions. That changed so many people’s lives that were getting denied coverage because they already had the disease. So if you put that in the context of what we’re finding, everybody has a preexisting condition. So, if that goes away basically a half of population will be – 

Francisco: So, keep that in. Keep that provision. I think they’re keeping that in as a provision. That’s good.

Jurvetson: I’m not really sure and I try really hard not to think about this but in general it is obvious, we need to re-engineer the FDA and Medicare simultaneously so that reimbursement policy and approval are simultaneous and that you have a pathway from where we’re today to a future of personalized medicine, regenerative medicine where the framework make absolutely no sense.

Japan has started some relatively reform in that regard. I think the whole system needs to be re-engineered from scratch and perhaps one way to make some progress there is somewhat similar to what they do in China where they have different provinces, difference experiments that go on. If we can have a FDA free zone, if you will, a region and if you move there you are signing up to a regulatory environment to take things on. 

Dr. Venter: [Inaudible] 

Jurvetson: Yeah exactly. Embrace that [inaudible]. We need massive experimentation and a whole new system.

Francisco: Great. Thank you. 

[The end]

 

 

 

 


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Bio: J. Craig Venter, Ph.D., is regarded as one of the leading scientists of the 21st century for his numerous invaluable contributi...
Bio: Steve Jurvetson is a partner at DFJ. His current board responsibilities include SpaceX, Synthetic Genomics, D-Wave, Planet, and...

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