Calico Partnering with AbbVie

This news from Calico is not unexpected; deals of this nature were a given at some point in the process of building out the company. It does reinforce current views on the direction that will be taken in their research and development, however. It is my hope that Calico turns out to be something other than a hybrid of the Ellison Medical Foundation and a continuation of the past ten years wasted on sirtuins, rapamycin, and other exceedingly expensive investigations aimed at slowing aging, efforts that can do no more than produce marginal benefits even if completely successful, and which despite years and billions spent have not even advanced to the point at which a realistic timeframe or cost for that success can be proposed. Metabolism is too complex and too little is known of its detailed relationship with aging to have a firm plan of action at this point.

We shall see, but I suspect that the only way to make Calico effective by diverting it from the current mainstream is for groups like the SENS researchers, people working on much more promising means of treating aging by repairing the damage that causes degeneration, where there is enough existing knowledge to have a plan and a projected cost and timeline for success, to demonstrate that they can produce better results at far less cost than the mainstream of longevity science. That in turn requires funding: the chicken and the egg issue for making significant progress towards the treatment of aging these days.

Calico, a Google-backed biotech company run by the former Genentech chief executive Arthur D. Levinson, said it would build a new Bay Area-based facility that will research diseases that afflict the elderly, such as neurodegeneration and cancer. The facility, which doesn't have a precise location just yet, is being built in partnership with AbbVie, a Chicago-area pharmaceutical company that has a research facility in Redwood City, Calif., just a few miles from Google's Mountain View headquarters. The companies will put up equal money - $500 million at first, and up to $1.5 billion if things go well - and split any profits down the middle.

The partnership is a standard biotech deal in which, more or less, one company deals with the early phases of drug development while the other takes responsibility for testing and making whatever gets discovered. You could say that Calico will look for drugs in test tubes and, if they're successful, AbbVie will test them out and make them in factories. "Calico will set up a world-class research and development facility in the San Francisco Bay Area, where we will explore the basic biology of aging and develop new medicines for patients with aging-related diseases," said Mr. Levinson, Calico's chief executive. "AbbVie will use its deep pharmaceutical expertise to provide scientific and clinical development support and its commercial expertise to ensure these therapies are widely available."

The AbbVie partnership seemingly makes it clear that Calico will be a drug discovery and development company, which is what many observers expected based on Mr. Levinson's background in drug development.



Any chance for the "medicines" to be a little more bold than the usual drugs? I'm thinking nanotechs or anything that would enable the Google way of doing things ambitiously.

Posted by: Nico at September 4th, 2014 10:05 AM

Why, so far, there is no interest from CaliCo in partnering with SENS?
Isn't SENS and its programs credible?
Large companies with lots of capital usually acquire or buy into/partner with cutting edge technology companies as they see a huge potential. The simple question is, if SENS' approach is one of the best in slow/stop/reverse aging, why Google did not zoom into yet and they prefer an alternate path?
Any ideas?

Posted by: alc at September 4th, 2014 10:39 AM

I too would like to know the answer to Alc's question. The only thing that comes to mind quickly is that perhaps Calico views itself more as a 'big data' computational research firm, wheras SENS is actual field research in specific, narrow areas.

I'm sure there's plenty of bright people at Google pushing for more interaction of Calico with SENS, but as a spinoff company I doubt that will have much effect.

Posted by: Dennis Towne at September 4th, 2014 3:21 PM

It's good to see something happening in this space. We'll have to wait and see if they try to develop drugs that follow the SENS strategy. The purpose of the SENS RF isn't to develop these therapies but to develop the initial encouraging science so it is taken up by other institutions. Let's hope Calico uptakes some of the encouraging science.

Posted by: Michael-2 at September 6th, 2014 6:34 AM

@alc - This is just a layman's guess, but the SENS strategy isn't mainstream yet which is why Calico is not looking to partner with it.

Have a read of Reason's excellent post on why billionaires, or companies controlled by them don't invest in SENS or other emerging research areas:

Dear Wealthy Individual, I Have This Great Idea Regarding How to Spend Your Money in a Better Way Than You Seem to Be Managing To Date

The tl;dr version is that any wealthy individual will always have a lot of petitioners and dependants. The young single person sitting around with 10 billion in the bank and no entourage, children, nephews, nieces, cousins, business partners, shareholders, or loyal employees doesn't actually exist.

Reason's blog post was in response to Maria Konovalenko's open letter to Sergey Brin written after the initial announcement of Calico.

Posted by: Jim at September 7th, 2014 4:06 AM

Also since one of Calcio's first hires was Cynthia Kenyon, discoverer of the first life extending single gene mutation in C. Elagans, I'd imagine they are going down the "look for genes/alleles that extend human lifespan by comparing the genomes of long lived individuals with average individuals, then look for drugs that mimic those favorable alleles".

This approach is mainstream because the scientists backing it can point to single gene mutations extending the lives of worms and mice. Scientists backing the SENS damage repair approach cannot yet point to damage repair technologies extending the lives of worms and mice, mainly because these technologies are still in development. Even the removal of Senescent Cells by Darren Baker's group at the Mayo clinic is still being tested on regular mice to look for a life extension effect.

The good thing about Calico is that it proves there are growing amounts of money and belief backing the idea that lifespan and healthspan extension in humans is possible. SENS damage repair favoring scientists *just* need to get over the initial technological demonstration hump to get to the starting line when they will then be able to access funding from groups like Calico.

Posted by: Jim at September 7th, 2014 4:23 AM

Here's how SENS officially comments the partnership: "(...) Though the agreement does not announce their research priorities, our recent Rejuvenation Biotechnology Conference demonstrated the need for large pharmaceutical company commitment, and for an acknowledgment of potentially long timelines - and both are reflected here. (...)" in

Looking at it this way, this could push other pharma majors to look into aging more seriously. Though the all players could still go the classic and unefficient drug route... but I want to hope and delude myself into thinking that Google will act as a catalyst for a change of attitude in the whole industry.

Posted by: Nico at September 7th, 2014 5:52 PM

The classic and inefficient drug route is necessary although hopefull more streamlined in future. I think this is at the heart of what makes SENS research so hard to sell, the fact people separate it from standard medical research. The fact is that SENS is a variety of medical treatments and therapies for specific age related diseases as well as non specific diseases. It's more akin to Geriatric medicine than traditional Gerontological attempts.

Posted by: Michael-2 at September 7th, 2014 8:40 PM

ā€˛Wealth and the wealthy really only follow success on the large scale. They arrive at the point at which they would have been really helpful a few years back, turning up after the long and painful bootstrapping has been accomplished." From another post by Reason, linked by Jim above.

I don't think that this is true especially with Google because they are funding several long-term out-of-the-box projects and are not know for mainstream thinking or being afraid of mainstream critics at all.

For me more interesting is the fact that Ray Kurzweil himself is a director of engineering at Google. He probably may have been already involved in the decision to start Calico last year and he definitely will know Aubrey de Grey and the SENS approach too very well. In the moment I only can remember vaguely different events in the past that both have attended but I cannot recall any concrete article, comment or opinion from Kurzweil about SENS!? Now, if HE would be not convinced of the SENS approach or Aubrey de Grey as a person it would be no surprise that there is no cooperation between Calico and SENS. Anybody with any quotes or sources in this direction?

(I wrote something similar last March about the relation between Craig Venter and his startup Human Longevity Inc. to SENS: )

Posted by: Lothar at September 8th, 2014 5:04 PM

I'm a big supporter of SENS but IMO the reason you don't see more funding for SENS is it has yet to show a proof of principle in mammals. As far as I know no mouse study has yet shown life extension using a SENS method.

While the metabolic tweaking methods are inferior (they won't do much to help people already alive, they'll take generations to be proved to extend lifespan in humans, etc) they can show a proof of principle because they have extended lifespan in mouse studies already.

This is why it's VERY important that SENS research be able to show some life extension benefit at some point in animal studies. (That's why I hope SENS researchers are working on the "easiest" methods first) I'm sure with that "proof in the pudding" SENS will get more funding. Of course to get to that point SENS needs significant funding. It's a catch 22. That's why SENS needs funders with a bit of vision and faith.

Posted by: jen at September 9th, 2014 12:42 AM
Comment Submission

Post a comment; thoughtful, considered opinions are valued. New comments can be edited for a few minutes following submission. Comments incorporating ad hominem attacks, advertising, and other forms of inappropriate behavior are likely to be deleted.

Note that there is a comment feed for those who like to keep up with conversations.