Wang Jun spent 16 years expanding the world’s understanding of what living things are made of — sequencing genomes including those of the giant panda and potatoes.
Now he’s attempting to build on that: using DNA as one component to create online avatars that could act as health-care test dummies for people. Asia’s biggest internet company believes he’s onto something.
Wang’s iCarbonX wants to construct a “digital you” containing biological samples such as saliva, proteins and DNA; bolstered by environmental measurements such as air quality; and lifestyle factors such as workout regimes and diet. The Shenzhen, China-based company is developing algorithms to analyze the data, with the intention of recommending tailored wellness programs, food choices and possibly prescription medicines.
Tencent Holdings Ltd. and Zhongyuan Union Cell & Gene Engineering Corp. invested in iCarbonX, making it one of only three health-care startups in China with a $1 billion-plus valuation, according to CB Insights. Preventive medicine is burgeoning in the nation as cancer and diabetes diagnoses increase. Artificial intelligence systems will generate $6.7 billion in global revenue from health care by 2021, compared with $811 million last year, researcher Frost & Sullivan said.
“I’m trying to build a crystal ball,” Wang, 40, said. “By analyzing all the data that we can get our hands on, we will be able to see more clearly to predict what might happen to your body in the future.”
He has some powerful backers. Tencent, owner of social-media app WeChat, led a $200 million series A funding round in April and is providing computing power, Wang said. The companies’ offices are 10 minutes apart in Shenzhen.
The iCarbonX website shows Tencent Chairman Ma Huateng, China’s third-richest man, attending the founding ceremony in October. Canny Lo, a spokeswoman for Tencent, didn’t respond to an e-mail and text message seeking comment.
Shanghai-listed Zhongyuan Union, also known as Vcanbio, does gene testing and blood banking. Two calls to Vcanbio’s offices weren’t answered. There are two other investors, including a big data company, and Wang said he would announced the names soon.