Naveen Jain is a serial entrepreneur who’s built companies including Infospace, Intelius, Talentwise, Moon Express and, now food and health company Viome Life Sciences. He is one of a growing body of thinkers working to optimize health and prevent disease through precision nutrition. He spoke with What the Future on why he agrees with Hippocrates that food is medicine.
Kate MacArthur: What is Viome and what can consumers learn from it?
Naveen Jain: What Viome does is understand the biochemistry of the human body, and then use machine learning to be able to adjust the chemistry of the body so you can stay healthy.
MacArthur: You identify this by blood and stool samples, correct?
Jain: And very soon, saliva.
MacArthur: How exactly does it work?
Jain: You send the samples to us. We analyze the sample and what you get back in your app is, “What is your biological age? What is your immune health? What is your cellular health? What is your mitochondrial health? What is your gut health? What is your cellular response, stress response health?” and 400 other scores. Then we say, “Here are the foods you should eat and why, here are the foods you should not eat and here is why.” We give you all the vitamins, minerals, herbs, digestive enzymes, amino acids, probiotics, prebiotics, and we make them for you on-demand, robotically. As your body changes, we reanalyze your body. Then we say, “Now you need this, not this,” and that is constantly done.
MacArthur: So, food really is medicine in this case?
Jain: What we’re realizing is there is no such thing as universally healthy food and there is no such thing as a universally healthy supplement. What is good for you today may not be good for you six months from now as your body changes.
MacArthur: Are we getting to a point where we can use synthetic biology to customize the food itself?
Jain: Synthetic biology is slightly different, but I would argue that we can custom print the food so you can 3D print your food one day. It is possible that we can take a natural base and customize the food, even customize your water. It could be an oat milk ice cream, and I can now sprinkle my nutrients on top of that. That could be personalized ice cream.
MacArthur: It feels like we’re not going to see that in homes anytime soon.
Jain: No, but everything starts at the experimental level and next thing you know, they’re at your home, right? All these sensors are going to constantly be interacting with us. Our personal assistant called AI is going to be constantly looking at everything that’s happening in our life and analyzing. Your fridge will let you know what you should and shouldn’t stock. Or we will not let you order the food that’s bad for you anymore, and it's going to control what you can order right now.
MacArthur: How do you make it equitable and affordable for everyone?
Jain: Our test, when we started five years ago, cost us $400, and we sold them for $400. We are already working on technologies that will bring our cost down to $10 and will bring them under $10. Then it becomes a matter of scaling to bring them to a point where everybody can afford it.
Eventually, the cost of these preventions will be so low, if food and testing can prevent the diseases, then every government, every employer would make it a part of their [benefits] and will become free to everyone. The cost of healthcare for chronic diseases in the U.S. alone is $3 trillion. So having everybody be tested and making sure they don’t get sick is the best thing you can do because you don’t have to spend money on a cancer cure anymore.