March 30, 2017
Every once in a while someone in Silicon Valley brings up the possibility of living forever, or at least a really long time, but first we’re going to need to figure out a way to enjoy all those extra years. Unity Biotechnology is a startup focusing on medicines to help us do that by slowing the effects of age-related diseases. And the company announced it has pulled in a whopping $116 million in Series B financing today — some of which came from Amazon’s Jeff Bezos.
Sometimes your body keeps aging cells around longer. These cells stop dividing after some form of stress,which is an anti-cancer mechanism that keeps damaged cells from dividing and growing out of control. But too much build-up of those types of cells leads to other problems as we age. Unity looks for ways to help your body shed older cells causing inflammation and other diseases linked to aging.
Unity holds a great amount of potential in preventing our bodies from aging as fast and that has perked some of the top investors in science and medicine and is one of the larger private financings in biotech history.
But it’s not the first time Bezos has invested in biotech. The Amazon CEO placed his bets on Juno Therapeutics back in 2014, through his venture capital arm Bezos Expeditions. Juno is one of the IPO success stories in the biotech world for its breakthrough discoveries in cancer medicine.
The Scottish-based mutual fund Baillie Gifford, which has also invested in several biotech companies, also invested in this round — as did Venrock, ARCH Venture Capital, Mayo Clinic and WuXi Pharmaceuticals.
The company also announced it would be placing Keith Leonard — the former CEO of KYTHERA Biopharmaceuticals — in the role of CEO and that previous CEO and co-founder Nathaniel “Ned” David will now be Unity’s president.
Jeff Bezos, Mayo Clinic back anti-aging startup Unity Biotechnology for $116 million
April 23, 2016
Could there be a recipe for a longer, healthier life?
Pop a pill and live a long, healthy life. It might not be quite that easy yet, but researchers at Mayo Clinic believe they have found a cell that could hold the secret to aging extra gracefully.
Their research, published in the journal Nature Wednesday, helped patients live longer, healthier lives. The only catch is their patients are mice. But the researchers believe they could someday translate it into a recipe for human longevity, too.
In fact, the research has been so convincing that Mayo Clinic invested in Unity Biotechnology, a San Francisco-based startup built around the researchers’ approach. Other investors in the company include ARCH Venture Partners, Venrock, and Chinese WuXi, and the study’s lead author Jan van Deursen is listed as a Unity co-founder.
The anti-aging method works like this: scientists inject the mice with a drug that pushes out toxic, worn-out cells called “senescent cells.” The senescent cells are old and stressed and don’t behave properly anymore. Instead, they “litter the body with aging” as van Deursen puts it.
Mice that had their senescent cells routinely flushed starting in middle age grew to be much healthier in their older age. They were not only more active and exploratory, they also developed tumors more slowly than control mice. They experienced fewer eyesight problems, less fat buildup, and improved heart and kidney health. On average, these mice lived eight months longer than those that received no drugs. In mouse terms, that’s a one-third longer lifespan.
Because of the way the drug attacks the senescent cells, the mice cocktail won’t work in humans—at least not yet. But Unity proposes to find ways to combat age-related diseases and disabilities by learning more about how these senescent cells behave in people, research that could take years, even decades.
“Imagine drugs that could prevent, maybe even cure, arthritis or heart disease or loss of eyesight,” says Nathaniel David, Unity’s co-founder and CEO. “It’s an incredible aspiration.”
The research team first eliminated senescent cells from genetically modified mice back in 2011 and this new research is their first attempt on healthy, regular mice.
And they have been at it longer than their nearest Silicon Valley competition, Calico, the ultra-secret “California Life Company” started by Alphabet CEO Larry Page and Apple Chairman Arthur Levinson in 2013. Calico has partnered with several drug researchers, such as the pharmaceutical company AbbVie. They have also hired lab researchers to work on anti-aging drugs, though the company hasn’t brought anything to market yet.
And this isn’t just California dreaming—it has the capacity to help us all. “If we can translate this biology into medicines, our children might grow up in significantly better health as they age,” says David. “There will be many obstacles to overcome, but our team is committed and inspired to achieve our mission.”
Mayo Clinic Taps Silicon Valley to Help People Age Gracefully