A new company plans to offer $25,000 genetic health screenings for the super-rich

J. Craig Venter, the scientist who led the project to sequence the first human genome, is getting into the elite healthcare business.

Venter’s company Human Longevity, Inc. (HLI) has announced plans to launch a medical testing service that includes full genome sequencing, medical imaging, and machine learning to provide “the most complete picture of individual health,” the company said a statement.

But it won’t be cheap — each checkup at the new venture, called Health Nucleus, would cost $US25,000 or $US50,000 a pop, depending on the number of people being tested and the kind of testing they seek, Venter said, according to Xconomy.

The first Health Nucleus is opening in San Diego, at HLI’s headquarters, and others are scheduled to open in other US and international cities in 2016.

Here are the services it plans to provide:

  • Whole human genome sequencing will give a readout of a person’s full set of 6 billion DNA “letter” pairs (most DNA tests cover less than 2% of your genome, according to HLI)
  • Microbiome sequencing will measure the combined DNA of the microbes that live in and on the human body
  • Metabolome characterization will measure the unique chemical fingerprints of the processes that occur in living cells
  • A comprehensive body MRI scan will screen for anything abnormal and provide a baseline picture of health
  • Other customised laboratory tests and screenings

According to HLI, “An experienced team of clinicians, geneticists and bioinformaticians curate these data and produce an integrated report that can inform clients’ care.”

But some people are sceptical of the testing service’s motives. New York Times science journalist Carl Zimmer tweeted:

(A false positive is a test result that incorrectly finds a medical condition that is not actually present.)

Venter called the comment “very naive,” (though he didn’t say why), adding only that “Technology has advanced in the last 10 years.” 

Zimmer and others also pointed out that with all that genetic data, you might want some genetic counseling on what to do with it. For example, if you find out you’re at risk of a certain disease — should you seek costly (and possibly unncessary) preventative treatment?

In addition, many of Health Nucleus’ tests are not FDA-approved, since they haven’t yet been tested. According to Xconomy, HLI was able to get around this by operating as a clinical research project subject to basic Institutional Research Board (IRB) protocols.

But Venter is optimistic about the venture’s future.

“The Health Nucleus is our opportunity to lead the way to genomic health, enabling individuals and their physicians to pivot towards a more proactive, preventative and predictive healthcare future,” he said in a statement.

As long as they can afford it, that is.

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