The 5 “Aging” Startups Backed by Longevity Fund
“Nothing is certain except death and taxes“, said Benjamin Franklin, and his words still hold true today. While there are ways to mitigate the effects of taxes like Foreign Earned Income Exclusion, death is coming and our days are numbered. It seems like quite the taboo topic that nobody wants to talk about. One nurse who did an informal survey found that the number one regret from people on their deathbeds was “I wish I lived my life the way I wanted to and not the way other people wanted me to live it“. If that’s not an option for you, then maybe you need more time on this earth to sort yourself out. Quite a few startups are addressing the “holy grail” of cracking aging, an idea which supersedes every other startup idea out there. While extending the lifespan of humans may not be the best idea for this planet, quite a few people would happily slap down some cash for some extra years on this planet so they can live as long as some of the Asians do:
We’ve looked at various aging startups before like Human Longevity, and Calico. When it comes to the ideal leadership profile for a company that’s focused on aging, we’re split between having an old experienced executive who is increasingly aware of their own morality versus a younger millennial filled with the endless optimism and naive ambition that typically characterizes youth of all generations. One good example of someone in the latter category tackling the problem of aging is Laura Deming. While all the news outlets are (appropriately) fawning all over the profile of Ms. Deming, an MIT dropout who started working on the fund before she was old enough to smoke cigarettes, we’re more interested in where she has placed her bets so far. According to Longevity Fund’s website, they’ve made investments in 5 startups so far. We didn’t see anyone talking about what investments she has made, so we’re going to sort that out right now.
Unity Biotechnology first came across our radar earlier this year in an article we wrote about life extension science (a label that’s much preferred over anti-aging). Since this San Francisco startup was founded in 2009, they’ve taken in $154 million in funding with the latest round, a $35 million Series B, closing just 10 days ago (actually a continuation of a $116 Series B that started in Fall of 2016). According to Unity, that $151 million Series B is said to be one of the largest private financing rounds in biotech history. Loads of high profile investors have provided all this funding including Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Peter Thiel of Founders Fund, Mayo Clinic, and Fidelity just to name some.
Healthy cells that age can experience a stress known as “cellular senescence”. Unity published research in April of this year showing that they can selectively eliminate senescent cells with a molecule (UBX0101) that may delay, prevent, or even reverse osteoarthritis (OA) which causes chronic joint pain in 80% of people over 65.
Precision Biosciences first came across our radar in an article we published a few years back on 7 Gene Editing Companies Investors Should Watch. Since that article, 3 of those companies have gone public and Precision Biosciences has taken in $25.65 million in total funding, all of which came in the form of a Series A which saw participation from Amgen (NASDAQ:AMGN) and Baxter (NYSE:BAX). Their platform revolves around ARCUS, a next-generation genome editing platform derived from a natural genome editing enzyme called a homing endonuclease. Here’s how this technology can be used:
Genetics certainly comes into play when we think about life expectancy so it’s easy to see how this company fits the “anti-aging” investment thesis.
Founded in 2015, San Francisco startup Alexo Therapeutics has taken in $61 million in funding so far to develop ALX148, a fusion protein that is supposed to improve the effectiveness of antibody therapies that are used to fight cancer. Since cancer is a leading cause of death, that may be why this company falls into an anti-aging portfolio. Of course the same could be said for just about any healthcare company. The ALX148 protein is based on research conducted at Stanford University which also happens to be an investor in this startup. In April of this year, they initiated dosing in a Phase 1 clinical program that is evaluating the safety of ALX148 in patients with advanced solid tumors and lyphoma.
Founded in 2015 as well, San Diego startup Metacrine has taken in $36 million in funding so far from investors that include venBio (also an investor in Alexo Therapeutics and Precision Biosciences). The company’s focus is on advancing research in nuclear hormone receptors for the treatment of metabolic diseases like type 2 diabetes and non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). The technology is based on research conducted Salk Institute researcher Ron Evans who has founded many companies in the past including co-founding Ligand Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:LGND). It’s safe to say that if metabolic diseases cause you to die early, then curing them amounts to increasing your longevity. Just a few weeks ago, Metacrine announced a collaboration with Novo Nordisk (NYSE:NVO) to develop “Fibroblast Growth Factor 1” (“FGF1”) variants for glucose lowering and insulin sensitization.
Founded in 2014, Massachusetts startup Navitor Pharmaceuticals has taken in $56.5 million so far from investors that include Sanofi (NYSE:SNY) and Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ). The startup is working on a new class of medicines for age-related diseases, and an article by FierceBiotech does a good job of explaining what Navitor does for people with no medical background. Cells in your body get hungry like you do, and there is a protein kinase called mTOR that controls their appetites. When something goes wrong with this process, bad isht happens – like metabolic, neurological, inflammatory diseases, and even neurodegenerative conditions like Alzheimer’s disease. Thanks to some discoveries by Whitehead Institute researcher David Sabatini, Navitor can now target mTORC1 which plays the biggest role in cell growth.
Longevity Fund spent 6 months evaluating the merits of each investment, and all these aging startups picked so far have some commonalities. All have raised more than $25 million and all are backed by high profile investors with venBio backing three of these five startups. While we need to wait and see what other investments are raised, it’s tough to see how any of these investments could have been made without connections (like Peter Thiel). Ms. Deming is the youngest fellow in the history of Peter Thiel Fellowships, and that’s what triggered her to put her MIT education on hold. With 3-5 startups left for Longevity to invest in yet, it will be interesting to see what other aging startups they choose for their portfolio.