Gene-sequencing giant Illumina Inc, private equity firm Warburg Pincus LLC and venture capital firm Sutter Hill Ventures have agreed to invest $100 million to seed a new consumer-facing human genome platform called Helix, according to people familiar with the deal.

San Francisco-based Helix aims to provide a new kind of environment that will sequence, store and analyze individuals’ genetic data and provide a marketplace of services through various partners, allowing people to explore their geneology or understand their risk for inherited disease.

To accomplish that, Helix plans to create one of the world’s largest next-generation DNA sequencing labs and make the data accessible on a secure and protected database.

Initial partners are diagnostic testing giant Laboratory Corporation of America (LabCorp) and Mayo Clinic’s Center for Individualized Medicine, which are investing in Helix and will offer services to its customers.

Initially, Mayo will help Helix develop applications focused on consumer education and health-related queries. LabCorp will develop and offer analysis and interpretation services through Helix’s platform. Customers will control how their data is accessed.

Discussions with several other potential partners are underway, according to the sources who asked not to be named because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Illumina, Sutter Hill, LabCorp and Mayo did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Helix hopes to avoid some of the issues encountered by direct-to-consumer genetic testing company 23andMe, which in late 2013 was barred by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration from providing customers with health information. The company still performs genetic testing and offers information on ancestry, and recently won FDA approval for a test for Bloom syndrome.

The company intends “to work extremely closely with the FDA,” one of the sources said, adding that the platform would include health information, delivered through partners such as Mayo or LabCorp.

Helix intends to sequence a much larger swath of the genome than 23andMe, at minimum testing for all the protein coding genes that make up the exome and account for 85 percent of disease.

Operations for Helix are expected to kickoff in mid-2016, a source familiar with the deal said.

The investment is expected to erode Illumina’s non-GAAP earnings per share guidance by about $0.10 in 2016.

New York-based Warburg Pincus, with more than $35 billion under management, has invested in healthcare platforms in the past but this is their first major foray into genomics.


(Reporting by Mike Stone in New York and Julie Steenhuysen in Chicago; Editing by Bernard Orr)

Source: Reuters