As part of an agreement announced Wednesday, Research Triangle-based Metabolon will help J. Craig Venter’s new firm Human Longevity Inc. (HLI) pinpoint biochemicals in the body that provide a clearer picture of an individual’s health.
HLI says its mission is to tackle diseases of aging by building the world’s largest and most complete human genotype, microbiome and phenotype database.
Initially, Metabolon said it will carry out small molecule analysis of 10,000 subjects and collaborate with HLI to map changes in the small molecules in the blood to find markers and pathways of disease and gene mutations. Metabolon, which recently raised $15 million in venture capital, works in the field of metabolomics and holds multiple patents. The company’s proprietary platform technology can identify biochemical signatures at the cellular level.
John Ryals, CEO of Metabolon tells WRALTechWire, “This is the biggest single study of this type until now. Our technology is so robust that we can do these studies on a large number of patients.”
Venter, a PhD, known as a leading expert on genomics research, developed techniques at Celera that led to the first sequencing of the human genome in 2001. One of the most frequently cited scientists, he’s the author of more than 250 papers.
Ryals said Venter’s new company plans to move into genomics based medicine. Under the terms of the deal, Metabolon will be able to create and commercialize diagnostic tests based on its small molecule findings while HLI focuses on genetics. Financial terms weren’t disclosed.
Ryals explained that while genetics can tell you if you’re at risk for many specific diseases, Metabolon’s technology identifies small molecules that represent an actual disease state. “Genetics can tell you if you have the risk, but you might never get the disease. We look at what is actually happening in a patient. Being able to detect the disease at an early stage allows you to make interventions and prevent the disease.”
Metabolon has already launched three diagnostic tests, one for insulin resistance (which can lead to Diabetes II) and two for prostate cancer that offer more reliable results as a follow-up to slightly elevated PSA levels.
Ryals noted that Metabolon’s research collaboration with Carlos Slim Institute, Patia Biopharma and other Mexican partners announced in late February is somewhat similar to the work it will be doing with Venter’s HLI. Mexico has one of the world’s worst obesity and teenage diabetes. The goal of these studies is to detect prediabetes early and prescribe treatment to prevent progression to type 2 diabetes.
Metabolon will test up to 3 million overweight or obese adults and secondary school students who are obese and/or have a family history of diabetes.
Ryals said Venter, a member of Metabolon’s Scientific Advisory Board since 2003, is also a personal friend, and that “Helped move this deal along.” He noted the company expects to get a lot of attention from the deal with HCI. “People are finally getting what we’re doing,” he said. “It’s still different and novel to a lot of people, but we’ve been at it 15 years.”
In a statement, Dr. Venter said, “The establishment of HLI is the next step beyond the sequencing of the human genome, and may at last provide useful clinical information for the treatment of disease that was lacking from genome mapping alone. Metabolon is a visionary and leader in the field of metabolomics, and I have great confidence in the company’s technology and ability to add significant value to HLI. Because of my position as a member of Metabolon’s Scientific Advisory Board, I have a deep personal appreciation of the company’s impressive methods and scientific expertise.”