Genome wiz Venter partners with Roche in DNA sequencing deal

Reuters News
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Posted: Jan 14, 2015 3:16 PM

By Julie Steenhuysen

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Genome pioneer J. Craig Venter has signed a multi-year deal to sequence and analyze tens of thousands of genomes for Roche's Genentech unit in a deal aimed at identifying new drug targets and biomarkers, the companies said on Wednesday.

The deal is one of the biggest yet for Venter's La Jolla, California based Human Longevity Inc (HLI), a start-up formed last March with the goal of sequencing 1 million genomes by 2020. Financial terms were not disclosed.

"It's a big deal for HLI and Genentech. We hope that it is precedent-setting," Venter, HLI's chief executive and co-founder, said in a telephone interview.

The deal follows a spate of investments by the Swiss drugmaker in genomic data and tools aimed advancing the use human DNA in drug discovery and diagnostics.

Earlier this week, Roche said it will acquire a majority stake in molecular and genomic analysis business Foundation Medicine in a deal valued at more than $1 billion.

Last week, Roche's Genentech announced a partnership with privately held 23andMe Inc to generate whole genome sequencing data for about 3,000 people with Parkinson's disease in order to identify new therapeutic targets for treating the degenerative neurological condition.

“Genentech’s goal is to harness the power of widespread whole genome sequencing to identify new therapeutic targets and diagnostic biomarkers,” James Sabry, senior vice president and global head of Genentech partnering, said of the Venter deal.

A key feature of the deal is that it will give Venter's company access to both genomic information and clinical information from patients enrolled in clinical trials.

The DNA will be stripped of any personal identifying details, but it will be linked with patients' clinical information, known as phenotype data.

"We're trying to build the world's most powerful database by having a very large number of genomes and associated phenotype information to make this information meaningful," said Venter, the U.S. scientist who raced the U.S. government to map the human genome over a decade ago.

"This deal is a step in that direction," he said.

(Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen; Editing by Tom Brown)