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Dr. J. Craig Venter’s 2 Startup Companies

When you spend a great deal of time trying to understand disruptive technologies, you will find yourself humbled on a regular basis when you see just how many smart and accomplished people there are in the world. While the media idolizes some of the most vapid and uninspiring “talent” imaginable, many geniuses slide under the radar and may never be recognized by the general public for their significant accomplishments. One such man is Dr. John Craig Venter, whose many accomplishments include being the first to sequence the human genome and the first to transfect a cell with a synthetic genome. While one of his companies, Celera, was acquired by Quest Diagnostics in 2011, his other 2 startups are about exciting as they come. These 2 companies are Synthetic Genomics and Human Longevity.

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We last wrote about Synthetic Genomics in May of 2015 where we took a closer look at the Company’s 3 main subsidiaries and speculated that they may be looking to IPO soon. Since then, the IPO window for biotechs appears to have slammed shut though that hasn’t stopped a gene-editing company called Intellia from filing for an IPO just a few weeks ago. We recently discussed how synthetic biology and gene editing are related, and how retail investors can get exposure to these 2 exciting disruptive technologies.

Since May of last year, Synthetic Genomics has made some meaningful progress. Lung Biotechnology PBC, a subsidiary of United Therapeutics Corporation (NASDAQ: UTHR), announced an expansion of their R&D agreement with Synthetic Genomics to develop transplantation-ready pig organs using synthetic genomic advances. This announcement came along with an investment of $50 million more from Lung Biotechnology which is in addition to their previous investment of $50 million made in 2014. Synthetic Genomics also announced the design and construction of the first minimal synthetic bacterial cell which was an accomplishment that was heavily covered by the media. The Company also announced that their BioXp™ 3200 System, the world’s first DNA printer, reached another milestone with the release of the BioXp™ cloning module moving closer to a full launch of the BioXp™ 3200 System which is already used by 25 commercial customers. Hands-free cloning sounds like the way forward.

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Since our last article on Human Longevity in March of 2014, a lot has been happening with Dr. J. Craig Venter’s second startup that wants to make “100 the new 60”. Just this month, Human Longevity officially became a unicorn with a valuation of $1.2 billion following a $220 million Series B round, which was supported by long-time backers Celgene ($CELG) and Illumina ($ILMN). Just a week ago, Human Longevity announced a 10-year deal with AstraZeneca to sequence and analyze up to 500,000 DNA samples from AstraZeneca clinical trials.

Human Longevity has also made several acquisitions including  Cypher Genomics, Inc., a leading genome informatics company, and LifebankUSA, a leader in placental and cord blood banking. They’ve shored up their leadership team with strategic hires like Sally Howard who comes from the FDA where she served most recently as Senior Advisor and Acting Chief of Staff to the FDA Commissioner, along with a Head of Oncology who will drive their recently announced oncology product offerings, a new CFO, and an expert in machine learning from Google who was previously head of Google Translate. Human Longevity also signed a multi-year agreement with Genentech to conduct whole genome sequencing of tens of thousands of de-identified DNA samples from Genentech. Everything seems to point to Human Longevity ramping up for an IPO.

Update 08/02/18: Human Longevity filed a lawsuit against its co-founder and former CEO, J. Craig Venter, on grounds of leaking information to competitors and using the company’s computer and e-mail to tap investors and poach employees after being terminated as CEO. Prior to the case, HLI has also reportedly terminated multiple senior executives.

Both of Dr. Craig Venter’s startups are making some great progress, and retail investors can only hope that we see an IPO in the near future for one or both of these companies.

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