Craig Venter's company in deal for whole exome tests at new low cost

Tue Sep 22, 2015 5:08am EDT
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By Julie Steenhuysen

(Reuters) - A company formed by genome pioneer Craig Venter will offer clients of a South Africa-based insurance company whole exome sequencing - sequencing all protein-making genes in the human genome - at a price that marks yet another dramatic decline in the cost of gene sequencing, the two companies said on Tuesday.

Venter's company, Human Longevity Inc, will provide the tests at a cost of $250 each through a special incentive program offered by Discovery Ltd, an insurer with clients in South Africa and the United Kingdom.

Venter, the U.S. scientist who raced the U.S. government to map the human genome 15 years ago for a cost of $100,000, said the $250 price point per whole exome marks a new low in the price of gene sequencing.

"It's our goal to really make this (sequencing) available to broad populations," he said in a telephone interview.

The multiyear deal gives Discovery's clients access to low-cost whole exome sequencing, tests that look only at the protein-making segments of DNA known as exons, which represent 2 percent of the genome but account for 85 percent of disease-causing mutations.

The deal also covers testing for whole genome and cancer genome sequencing services. Financial terms were not disclosed.

Until recently, whole genome sequencing - which maps all of an individual's 20,500 genes - was prohibitively expensive, costing about $20,000 just five years ago. As of last year, the average cost of whole genome sequencing fell to $1,500.

Whole exome sequencing costs range from $400 to $1,500, plus extra charges for analyzing the results.   Continued...

Genetic researcher Craig Venter is pictured in his office in La Jolla, California March 7, 2014. 
REUTERS/Mike Blake