Home Health Care Former unicorn genetics startup Human Longevity loses its horn

Former unicorn genetics startup Human Longevity loses its horn


San Diego, California-based Human Longevity Inc. (HLI) was founded in 2013 with the audacious mission of radically extending the human lifespan through better understanding of people’s genetic makeup.

Back then the promise created by lower cost genetic sequencing seemed ripe for HLI co-founder and genetic sequencing pioneer Craig Venter to take to market. Venter is a legend in the field of genetics known for his efforts at Celera Genomics on one of the first attempts to successfully map the human genome.

Investors like Celgene, Illumina and GE Ventures agreed, pouring hundreds of millions into the company, including a funding round in 2017 that valued HLI at more than $1.6 billion.

Since that peak, however, the company’s value has declined 80 percent to $310 million, according to a recent story in The Wall Street Journal.

Citing documents acquired by Lagniappe Labs and a letter to shareholders from HLI, the newspaper reported that the company is attempting to raise $25 million from existing investors at the new valuation.

The terms of the current funding round include priority payments to those investors in the case of a liquidation event and an anti-dilution provision called full-ratchet that allows investors to keep their ownership stakes constant by adjusting their own share prices if HLI decides to raise capital again at a lower price.

The Journal reports that the company’s employee count has dropped from 300 workers in 2016 to 150 today. Over the past few years, HLI has also had a virtual revolving door among its C-suite ranks.

Company co-founder Venter stepped down as CEO in 2017 and was replaced by Cynthia Collins, a former executive at GE Healthcare.

Collins herself left the company in less than a year later, along with a handful of other high level executives, and Venter again took the role of CEO.

Venter stepped down from the company for the second time in May and was subsequently sued by HLI for allegedly stealing trade secrets and trying to poach employees. Earlier this year, Saturnino Fanlo, Human Longevity’s chief financial officer and chief operations officer also departed.

Currently, Human Longevity is being led by its chief of radiogenomics and interim CEO David Karow which telegraphs the company’s new focus on its Health Nucleus business line, which sells a package consisting of full DNA sequencing alongside a battery of tests including a whole body MRI, heart rhythm monitoring and neurocognitive testing.

The diagnostic focuses on early detection and prevention of disease like cancer and cardiac disease, as well as metabolic and neurodegenerative diseases. While HLI has said the test has found early-stage issues in seemingly healthy patients, critics have often cited the lack of peer-reviewed validation for the company’s claims.

Health Nucelus, which is not covered by insurance, ranges in price from $4,950 to $25,000 for the most robust diagnostic. It is currently only offered at HLI’s San Diego headquarters, but the company said it plans to expand availability to other locations around the country.

Picture: Creative-Touch, Getty Images

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