A California judge has dismissed a suit in which genomics pioneer Craig Venter’s old company accused him of stealing trade secrets.
The decision on Tuesday brings to a close a messy breakup between Venter, the 72-year-old celebrity scientist who helped sequence the human genome, and Human Longevity, the struggling San Diego genomics company that Venter founded in 2013 and departed this past spring.
Human Longevity this past summer filed the now-dismissed suit in civil court against the J. Craig Venter Institute, Venter’s nonprofit research organization that employs several hundred scientists and staff near San Diego and Washington, D.C.
Human Longevity’s complaint had accused Venter of leaving the company with his company-issued laptop in tow so that he could take with him trade secrets — among them, the names and contact information of Human Longevity’s clients and would-be clients — to try to set up a competing business.
The complaint also alleged that Venter tried to steal away Human Longevity’s employees and investors, in violation of an agreement he had signed.
But in the ruling dismissing the suit, the judge concluded that Human Longevity hadn’t demonstrate that its case met the legal threshold required for a company or individual to sue when its trade secrets have been misappropriated.
Human Longevity soared to a valuation of around $1.6 billion in 2017 on the back of Venter’s bold ambition to build the world’s largest database of human genetic data and mine it for insights that could yield new drugs. The company’s best-known offering: an exhaustive medical workup “in a spa-like setting” marketed to people who are apparently healthy but might have silent diseases and vulnerabilities lurking in their genes. The price tag: $25,000, though discounted versions were also introduced.
But Human Longevity has struggled to find customers. Earlier this month, the company raised money at a valuation 80 percent lower than when it last raised money in 2017, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Erin Trenda, one of the attorneys representing JCVI in the case, said that “we are pleased the court agrees that HLI’s allegations are meritless and fail to state a trade secret claim.”
Human Longevity did not immediately return STAT’s request for comment.