The Top 10 Companies Working to Increase Longevity
The core of what we do at Nanalyze is to tell our readers all they need to know about investing in emerging technologies. Sometimes that story is much, much bigger, and what we’re really talking about is investing in emerging industries. NewSpace is one example, launching about 15 years ago with the emergence of companies like SpaceX and Virgin Galactic. It’s probably only within the last five years that the NewSpace industry has achieved real liftoff, with dozens of startups doing everything from offering launch services to building satellites to developing business analytics from space-based imagery. While we may one day end up living on Mars, we’re more interested in living a long and fruitful life right here on Mother Earth, despite the specter of cancer and dementia. An entire industry is coalescing around human longevity, promising to beat these age-related diseases and extend our lives to biblical proportions.
We’ve been covering the topic of life extension for more than five years, beginning with a profile on an anti-aging company called Human Longevity Inc, whose founders include billionaire serial entrepreneur Peter Diamandis and J. Craig Venter, a leading genomics expert. More recently, we introduced you to nine companies developing products in regenerative medicine, a broad category that refers to restoring the structure and function of damaged tissues or organs. We also tackled the more controversial topic of young blood transfusions earlier this year, as well as covered the 2019 IPO of Precision BioSciences (DTIL), a gene-editing company that wants to fight disease and re-engineer food.
The Trillion-Dollar Longevity Industry
Now we want to take a step back and talk a bit about the longevity industry before diving into the top 10 companies that are leading the way in life extension science. It’s an extremely complicated and fast-evolving landscape, so we enlisted the help of Margaretta Colangelo, a managing partner at both Deep Knowledge Ventures and Longevity Capital. The former is a Hong Kong-based investment firm that specializes in biotech and artificial intelligence. The latter is a “hybrid” hedge fund that targets investments in longevity companies. Deep Knowledge Ventures, in particular, has been churning out data and reports on the longevity industry through its analytical subsidiary, Aging Analytics Agency, for several years now. In effect, Colangelo and her colleagues are attempting to lay the groundwork for an entire longevity industry:
You’ll notice that they’re not just focused on the science of aging, represented by the top half of the graph, but the financial and technological solutions that will be required to meet the needs of an aging population that will soon outnumber even that most annoying demographic – Millennials. Colangelo says that while innovation is happening across these sectors, top-down management from national governments will be key to managing the societal pressures that are already being seen in countries like Japan that are becoming reliant on robots to help take care of its elderly population.
“Vast sums of money” stand to be “either gained or lost depending on how proactively nations work to neutralize the pressures imposed [from] the rising Silver Tsunami,” she says. How vast? According to some of even the more conservative estimates, Colangelo told us, the global longevity industry is set to reach $17 trillion in 2019, and on track to reach $27 trillion in 2026, accounting for as much as 20% of global GDP.
The Top 10 Companies Working to Increase Longevity
That seems like a huge number, but the longevity industry envisioned by Deep Knowledge Ventures, its partners, and its subsidiaries encompasses a vast ecosystem of businesses, not just those companies passing out anti-aging pills or personalizing medicine with AI. In order to build its longevity industry reports, the Aging Analytics Agency uses hundreds of “specially designed and specifically weighted quantitative metrics and sub-metrics to identify the specific scientific, technological, executive management and business development strengths, weaknesses and prospects of longevity industry companies,” according to Colangelo.
That brings us to the top 10 longevity companies, a list that was just updated this year:
Most if not all of these companies share a few characteristics, Colangelo says: successful leadership teams, high levels of funding, associations with prominent scientific research institutions, and therapy pipelines that target the root causes of biological aging. Let’s dive in.
AI for Drug Discovery
Insilico Medicine out of Maryland is an AI drug discovery company that we’ve covered before, raising $14.3 million since it was founded in 2014. Colangelo says Insilico is the first company to use an AI technique called Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs) – where two neural networks battle it out in order to build new data sets based on the original training data – for drug discovery and development. Its scientists have published more than 150 scientific papers with more than 3,000 citations.
Update 09/09/2019: Insilico Medicine has raised $37 million in Series B funding to commercialize its validated generative chemistry and target identification technology. This brings the company’s total funding to $51.3 million to date.
Regenerative Medicine for Immortality
With a current market cap of around $108 million, AgeX Therapeutics (AGE) is a publicly traded company from the San Francisco Bay area that was founded in 2017 by Michael D. West, who is a pretty big deal in the longevity scientific community. The company’s chief scientific officer, Aubrey de Grey, is probably even more famous as the founder of the SENS Research Foundation, a Silicon Valley-based research organization focused on regenerative medicine for age-related diseases. So, the company definitely ticks the box for high-profile leadership – though debate has been had about the merits of SENS. Its various technologies and pipeline drugs are based around the potential of pluripotent stem cells, which are cells that can potentially produce any cell or tissue the body needs to repair itself. The ability of pluripotent cells to replicate themselves indefinitely makes them essentially immortal.
Personalized Health Using AI and Genome Sequencing
We’ve already mentioned San Diego-based Human Longevity Inc., which was founded in 2013 and has raised $300 million from investors like Celgene (CELG), Illumina (ILMN) and GE (GE). The company had been valued as high as $1.6 billion but the Wall Street Journal reported last year that HLI’s worth had dropped by 80%. There have been a series of leadership shakeups and workforce layoffs, and Venter himself has departed and has been accused of allegedly stealing trade secrets from his former company. Its flagship product, Health Nucleus, involves applying machine learning to provide personalized health assessments from a person’s DNA sequence, as well as a battery of tests that include a whole-body MRI. Packages range in price from $4,950 to $25,000, MedCity News reported.
Unity Biotech Goes Public
We last checked in with San Francisco-based Unity Biotechnology (UBX) almost exactly two years ago, shortly after it completed a $151 million Series B. Since then, the company raised another $55 million in 2018 (for $210 million in total funding) before going public just a couple of months later in May with a pre-IPO valuation of $712 million. Currently, its market cap sits at about a third of that. Unity targets senescent cells (sometimes referred to as zombie cells), which are cells that have stopped dividing but accumulate in tissues and organs, causing inflammation and other problems as we age. The company is in a phase 2 clinical trial with a drug candidate to treat osteoarthritis of the knee. The study is expected to enroll approximately 180 patients with initiation expected in the fourth quarter of 2019 and initial 12-week results expected in the second half of 2020.
One Path to Stop Aging
Another company to jump into the public market last year was Boston-based resTORbio (TORC), which had raised $65 million in disclosed funding before joining the NASDAQ. The company is a 2017 spinout from Novartis (NOVN), attempting to commercialize a drug platform that inhibits an age-signaling pathway known as mTOR pathway, specifically targeting the release of TORC1 protein, which research suggests could “prolong lifespan, enhance immune function, ameliorate heart failure, enhance memory and mobility … and delay the onset of aging-related diseases.”
As you can see above, it has two therapies in advanced clinical trials for respiratory illness and Parkinson’s Disease. resTORbio expects top-line data in mid-2020.
Making an Impact Using Postpartum Placentas
Founded in 2016, New Jersey-based Celularity made it into our list of nine regenerative medicine startups earlier this year, and they’ve now taken in a total of $290 million to harvest stem cells from postpartum placentas, calling its proprietary platform IMPACT. With a $67 billion pharma company, Celgene (CELG), leading their last funding round, the company is quickly progressing with over twelve pre-clinical stem cell and new drug trials in progress.
The cell-based therapy could be applied to regenerate damaged tissue, produce whole organs, augment immunity, and generally help you live as old as Moses.
Another Path to Stop Aging
Another entrant from our 2019 regenerative medicine startup list, San Diego-based Samumed sports a $12 billion valuation on $650 million in disclosed funding. The company is laser-focused on developing therapies targeting a single, aging-related signaling pathway: the Wnt pathway, which is involved in stem cell control, proliferation and self-renewal. Samumed recently finalized the phase III trial design for one of its drug candidates targeting knee osteoarthritis.
Many Ways to Stop Aging
Founded in 2017, Boston-based Life Biosciences raised $50 million in a Series B at the beginning of the year. The startup is actually composed of five “daughter” companies that focus on one specific niche of aging. For instance, Senolytic Therapeutics goes after the same “zombie” cells as Unity Biotechnology, while Selphagy Therapeutics is attempting to restore autophagy – the process by which the body clears out damaged cells in order to regenerate new, healthy ones – in people with metabolic diseases that are characterized by an abnormal build-up of various toxic materials in the body’s cells. And we’re not just talking about last night’s binge drinking at the old-school punk rock show.
GDF11: Young Blood Factor
We came across another Boston area company, Elevian, for our article on young blood transfusions, a somewhat controversial technique that swaps old blood for young blood as a way to live longer. Rather than steal the blood of our young as other vampire startups are trying to do, Elevian has identified blood factors (including GDF11) that appear responsible for the benefits of young blood and is developing drugs that target GDF11 to treat a number of age-related diseases. The company was founded in 2017 and has raised $9.3 million in funding so far.
Update 11/30/2020: Elevian has raised $15 million in funding, bringing the company’s total funding to $24.3 million to date.
Longevity Goes to the Dogs
And now for something completely different: Founded in 2017, Rejuvenate Bio has raised an undisclosed amount of money to help man’s best friend grow old alongside him. Weaned from the Harvard Medical School lab of the famous geneticist George Church (and co-founder of Veritas Genetics, among other biotech startups), Rejuvenate Bio is targeting gene therapies for age-related canine diseases. We already have dog DNA tests, so there is already a kennel full of data at hand. First up is mitral valve disease (MVD), a heart condition that afflicts more than 80% of certain dog breeds such as Cavalier King Charles Spaniels. The proposed therapy involves inserting a new piece of DNA into the dog’s cells, which then produces a beneficial protein with the potential to stop the progression of MVD.
Update 04/20/2021: Rejuvenate Bio has raised more than $10 million in Series A funding to advance gene therapy for aging in humans and dogs. This brings the company’s total funding to more than $14.6 million to date.
Not surprisingly, Colangelo believes that the business of living longer could become the biggest, most complex industry in human history. Certainly, advances in genetics, artificial intelligence, and a host of other research disciplines and automation technologies are helping to drive innovation and lend credibility to what just a few years ago seemed more like magic than mainstream science. Some of the world’s most prominent scientists are putting their resources and reputations on the line, believing that not only can we beat diseases like cancer but we can literally stop the cellular ravages of time. We’ll continue to explore the theme of human longevity, starting with profiles on some of the companies highlighted here.
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