After the laboratory, the next stage of development in rejuvenation therapies involves the founding of biotechnology startups. There is no clear-cut point at which research stops being non-profit in the laboratory and starts being for-profit in a venture-funded startup. Every research team eyeballs the time and cost needed to get to the next level, something ready for the first human trial. Once that comes down to a gap that can be crossed with the combination of a seed round and angel investment round - say half a million to a million dollars and a year or two of work with a couple of clearly identifiable goals and go/no-go decisions - then the adventurous will make the leap. As I'm sure you've noticed it looks like a bear market is getting underway, but what better time to pull in investment for a project that might take a couple of years of heads-down work out of the limelight to reach the next stage? Bear markets only last a year or two, so by the time a new biotech startup has completed its first stage work successfully, it'll be ready to catch the headwinds of the next bull market.
Numerous lines of SENS rejuvenation research are, piece by piece, leaving the laboratory for the startup world. This is the success that we as a community have achieved with our years of charitable support for research aimed at advancing the state of the art. Whenever a new SENS-related biotechnology startup launches, bear in mind that a diverse group of people, investors and researchers, have looked at the technology and said "yes, we think can get a prototype therapy for human trials done in a couple of years." It is an important sign of progress, and one that is hard to fake: people with meaningful amounts of money on the line made those calls. You should expect our community to transition in part from one of fellow traveler non-profits and research groups to one made up equally of a network of startups, entrepreneurs, and investors of various stripes, from occasional angels to professionals at venture funds.
Here is a short list of interesting companies I am aware of that are working on SENS-related therapies at various stages, some very new, some years old, and proceeding at differing paces and with different strategies for development. They are not the only companies of interest to people who follow this space: I am omitting Arigos Biomedical, Organovo, and BioViva, among others, but the companies I list below are all very clearly working on aspects of SENS rejuvenation biotechnology. I'm certain there are others that I don't know about at this point - I am certainly far from well connected. I foresee a future in which in addition to the important work still ongoing in the laboratory, we can help to support a incubator-like environment of friendly companies under the SENS umbrella, helping one another succeed, each focused on one slice of the rejuvenation therapies needed to bring an end to aging. Those that succeed will act as guides for the growth of others: in diversity there is the greater chance of finding winning strategies. Importantly, among these companies today there are lot of people who are in this primarily to get the therapies built and out there and available. They are long-term SENS supporters. If they strike it rich, a good portion of that wealth is going to be reinvested in the next cycle of research development because, like us, they have a good idea of which of the two of life and money is more important. That is what success will look like once things become more commercial.
I've posted on the topic of Gensight in the past. This is a French company with tens of millions in venture funding that is built on technology for allotopic expression of mitochondrial genes originally partly funded by the SENS Research Foundation. They are focused on generating a robust commercial implementation for one mitochondrial gene, initially to deploy gene therapies to treat hereditary mitochondrial disease. Creating such a robust implementation is an important foundation for a future effort in which all mitochondrial genes can be backed up to the cell nucleus, and thus the contribution of mitochondrial DNA damage to aging can be eliminated.
Human Rejuvenation Technologies
Human Rejuvenation Technologies is a venture run by philanthropist Jason Hope, who you may recall funded a sizable chunk of the ongoing work on glucosepane cross-link breaking at the SENS Research Foundation back a few years ago. Glucosepane cross-link breaker drug candidates seem to be a few years in the future yet, so Human Rejuvenation Technologies is instead working with a drug candidate for clearing a form of metabolic waste key to plaque formation in atherosclerosis. This candidate is one of the results produced by the long-running SENS Research Foundation LysoSENS program.
Ichor Therapeutics has been around for a couple of years, and has done a good job in setting a sustainable lab business on the side. The interesting work here, however, is the continuation of SENS research programs aimed at removing the buildup of A2E, one of the components of lipofuscin that builds up in cells and interferes with cellular garbage disposal. Unusually among the forms of cellular damage, even those involving buildup of metabolic waste such as lipofusin, A2E is linked very directly and solidly to some forms of age-related disease that involve retinal degeneration. In most cases the fundamental damage that causes aging is separated from the end stage of disease by lengthy and barely understood chains of cause and consequence, but here it is very clear that getting rid of A2E is a good thing.
Oisin Biotechnologies is developing a senescent cell clearance therapy, an approach to treating aging that has definitely arrived with a splash: there are multiple methods demonstrated in mice, and a number of different groups at the point of launching commercial development efforts. The company was funded more than a year ago by the Methuselah Foundation and SENS Research Foundation, and you'll be hearing much more about them in the year ahead, I predict.
Pentraxin Therapeutics is the oldest and slowest of these companies, founded way back in 2001. The SENS-relevant work started in 2008 or 2009 with a partnership with GlaxoSmithKline to develop a treatment to clear transthyretin amyloid, a form of metabolic waste that builds up with age and is linked to cardiovascular disease, osteoarthritis, and death by heart failure in the oldest human beings. A human trial recently produced very positive results, showing significant clearance of amyloid in patients, and this is consequently probably the furthest advanced of all SENS technologies. Unfortunately it is also the most locked up within the slow regulatory system and a Big Pharma partnership. It is hard to say what is going to happen next here, but don't hold your breath expecting to see anything in the clinic soon.
Unity Biotechnology has emerged from the first successful efforts to clear senescent cells via gene therapy, back in 2011, as well as ongoing programs such as those of the Campisi laboratory. They have a sizable staff for a startup, good venture backing, and are developing treatments based on these methods, but which will be more suitable for use in human patients. You no doubt saw the full court press in the media put on by the various organizational backers of Unity earlier this week. It is great to see such a large number of people pushing the SENS line of damage repair as the approach to treatment of aging. As more companies reach the point of gaining support from deep pockets in the venture community, we will see more of this media attention for SENS-like rejuvenation therapies.