Craig Venter

J. Craig Venter / Wired

When Craig Venter launched his start-up four years ago, his promise of driving a medical revolution excited the industry.

NDTV reports, for $25,000 he would in return sell you a complete genome sequence, a full-body MRI scan, a cardio CT scan, bone densitometry, cognitive testing and more, all in the hope of discovering an unidentified brain tumour or abnormality.

Speaking of the company, Human Longevity Inc (HLI), he said, “We have sequencing that’s better than anybody else in the world. We have the most accurate data.”

However, the promises aren’t impressing, and nor is he fulfilling them. After conservation with more than a dozen current and former employees, customers and medical professionals describe a company that may prove unable to keep up with its founder’s ambitions. Some doctors have even claimed that such testing isn’t even useful and even those who do think so believe rivals may beat Venter to the post. There is a number of competing government-backed efforts in the USA and the UK, that threaten to overtake HLI in a bid to collect masses of the population’s genetic and clinical data, a key proposition for the company’s business success.

Even so, it would seem the only people drawn to the company are the wealthy who are able to come up with the funds up front. Venter claims that 40% of the 1,000 or so customers who have taken the test, called the Health Nucleus, have learned that they have a “serious” disease. However, those participants largely come from a Shanghai-based medical tourism startup called Quantum Clinics, which partnered with HLI in 2016. According to Chief Executive Officer Lu Yi, has said that Quantum will send approximately 50 Chinese patients for testing over the following year.

To add fuel to the fire, a paper published online earlier this year squashed Venter’s claims b stating that HLI scientists said age-related diseases requiring “prompt” medical attention have been found in only 8% of participants. Venter hit back at this statement, by explaining that “it depends on what you count.”

Furthermore, it would seem that the company premise doesn’t even sit well with doctors themselves. “I don’t like the idea of selling a product by scaring people,” said Ethan Weiss, a cardiologist at the University of California San Francisco.

It is also worth noting that it’s all well and good if you receive a clear-cut result, however, if not you are left with an overwhelming amount of data which is often difficult to decipher if you aren’t in the industry.

Seemingly noticing the critic backlog, Venter started slashing his prices. He has explained how he is working on signing contracts with large employer and expects to have “literally tens of thousands” of customers through those corporate partnerships

As the race heats up it will be interesting to see where Venter will be in the near future. This is a developing story definitely worth keeping your eye on.