$36,000
$25,176

UNITY Biotechnology Raises $116M for Senescent Cell Clearance Development

The whispers of late have had it that UNITY Biotechnology was out raising a large round of venture funding, and their latest press release shows that this was indeed the case. The company, as you might recall, is arguably the more mainstream of the current batch of startups targeting the clearance of senescent cells as a rejuvenation therapy. The others include Oisin Biotechnologies, SIWA Therapeutics, and Everon Biosciences, all with different technical approaches to the challenge. UNITY Biotechnology is characterized by a set of high profile relationships with noted laboratories, venture groups, and big names in the field, and, based on the deals they are doing, appear to be focused on building a fairly standard drug development pipeline: repurposing of apoptosis-inducing drug candidates from the cancer research community to clear senescent cells, something that is being demonstrated with various drug classes by a range of research groups of late. Senescent cells are primed to apoptosis, so a nudge in that direction provided to all cells in the body will have little to no effect on normal cells, but tip a fair proportion of senescent cells into self-destruction. Thus the UNITY Biotechnology principals might be said to be following the standard playbook to build the profile of a hot new drug company chasing a hot new opportunity, and clearly they are doing it fairly well so far.

UNITY Biotechnology Announces $116 Million Series B Financing

UNITY Biotechnology, Inc. ("UNITY"), a privately held biotechnology company creating therapeutics that prevent, halt, or reverse numerous diseases of aging, today announced the closing of a $116 million Series B financing. The UNITY Series B financing ranks among the largest private financings in biotech history and features new investments from longtime life science investors ARCH Venture Partners, Baillie Gifford, Fidelity Management and Research Company, Partner Fund Management, and Venrock. Other investors include Bezos Expeditions (the investment vehicle of Jeff Bezos) and existing investors WuXi PharmaTech and Mayo Clinic Ventures. Proceeds from this financing will be used to expand ongoing research programs in cellular senescence and advance the first preclinical programs into human trials.

The financing announcement follows the publication of research that further demonstrates the central role of senescent cells in disease. The paper, written by UNITY co-founders Judith Campisi and Jan van Deursen and published today, describes the central role of senescent cells in atherosclerotic disease and demonstrates that the selective elimination of senescent cells holds the promise of treating atherosclerosis in humans. In animal models of both early and late disease, the authors show that selective elimination of senescent cells inhibits the growth of atherosclerotic plaque, reduces inflammation, and alters the structural characteristics of plaque such that higher-risk "unstable" lesions take on the structural features of lower-risk "stable" lesions. "This newly published work adds to the growing body of evidence supporting the role of cellular senescence in aging and demonstrates that the selective elimination of senescent cells is a promising therapeutic paradigm to treat diseases of aging and extend healthspan. We believe that we have line of sight to slow, halt, or even reverse numerous diseases of aging, and we look forward to starting clinical trials with our first drug candidates in the near future."

So this, I think, bodes very well for the next few years of rejuvenation research. It indicates that at least some of the biotechnology venture community understands the likely true size of the market for rejuvenation therapies, meaning every human being much over the age of 30. It also demonstrates that there is a lot of for-profit money out there for people with credible paths to therapies to treat the causes of aging. It remains frustrating, of course, that it is very challenging to raise sufficient non-profit funds to push existing research in progress to the point at which companies can launch. This is a problem throughout the medical research and development community, but it is especially pronounced when it comes to aging. The SENS view of damage repair, which has long incorporated senescent cell clearance, is an even tinier and harder sell within the aging research portfolio - but one has to hope that funding events like this will go some way to turn that around.

From the perspective of being an investor in Oisin Biotechnologies, I have to say that this large and very visible flag planted out there by the UNITY team is very welcome. The Oisin team should be able to write their own ticket for their next round of fundraising, given that the gene therapy technology they are working on has every appearance of being a superior option in comparison to the use of apoptosis-inducing drugs: more powerful, more configurable, and more adaptable. When you are competing in a new marketplace, there is no such thing as too much validation. The existence of well-regarded, well-funded competitors is just about the best sort of validation possible. Well funded competitors who put out peer-reviewed studies on a regular basis to show that the high-level approach you and they are both taking works really well is just icing on the cake. Everyone should have it so easy. So let the games commence! Competition always drives faster progress. Whether or not I had skin in this game, it would still be exciting news. The development of rejuvenation therapies is a game in which we all win together, when new treatments come to the clinic, or we all lose together, because that doesn't happen fast enough. We can and should all of us be cheering on all of the competitors in this race. The quality and availability of the outcome is all that really matters in the long term. Money comes and goes, but life and health is something to be taken much more seriously.

Now with all of that said, one interesting item to ponder in connection to this round of funding for UNITY is the degree to which it reflects the prospects for cancer therapies rather than the prospects for rejuvenation in the eyes of the funding organizations. In other words, am I being overly optimistic in reading this as a greater understanding of the potential for rejuvenation research in the eyes of the venture community? It might be the case that the portions of the venture community involved here understand the market for working cancer drugs pretty well, and consider that worth investing in, with the possibility of human rejuvenation as an added bonus, but not one that is valued appropriately in their minds. Consider that UNITY Biotechnology has partnered with a noted cancer therapeutics company, and that the use of drugs to inducing apoptosis is a fairly well established approach to building cancer treatments. That is in fact why there even exists a range of apoptosis-inducing drugs and drug candidates for those interested in building senescent cell clearance therapies to pick through. Further, the presence of large numbers of senescent cells does in fact drive cancer, and modulating their effects (or removing them) to temper cancer progress is a topic under exploration in the cancer research community. So a wager on a new vision, or a wager on the present market? It is something to think about.

Comments

This has to be in the running for the biggest news of the year. If Jeff Bezos gets behind SENS it is a game-changer.

Posted by: Deleo at October 27th, 2016 5:28 PM

@Deleo : It could just be that his investment arm took the decision without consulting with him beforehand.

In any case, it may still indicate a general direction towards which Bezos wants to invest in the life science space ; and it doesn't sound too bad.

Looking forward to seeing more capital flowing towards SENS related therapies. Once the clinical effects of clearing senescent cells in humans are proved and widely accepted, I hope and expect a better acceptance of the SENS approach, wich more investment for the other types of therapies aimed at repairing accumulated damage.

Posted by: Spede at October 27th, 2016 7:21 PM

I see that you beat me to this, Reason ;) .

This is bloody fabulous news. I can't tell you how happy I am. I really did not imagine they'd be able to get to human trials so fast with a small molecule.

Reason, you wondered if this might "just" be about investors going after cancer, based on the involvement of Ascentage. I'm very confident that that's not it. Their first clinical trials are to ablate senescent cells to treat osteoarthritis and cataracts and Unity's clinical pipeline next lists atherosclerosis, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, and chronic kidney disease, with no mention of cancer. The involvement of Ascentage is because their approach for ablating senescent cells is to target anti-apoptotic pathways, and Ascentage has a library of and much experience with such molecules:

"We have evaluated a wide panel of drug candidates that clear senescent cells, and Ascentage's compounds are some of the best we've seen," [Dr. Nathaniel David, founder and CEO of Unity Biotechnology] explained. "Access to their compound library through this collaboration will significantly accelerate our efforts to develop drugs to improve healthspan by halting or reversing several age-related diseases ... [and] also because this partnership will allow us to reach a global market."

As part of the deal, the companies will also form a JV for the development and commercialization of senolytic drugs in China. ...

Posted by: Michael at October 27th, 2016 7:34 PM

This is why it is so important to show that SENS principle works in mice, few years ago senolytics showed first results in mice and now everyone is jumping on it. After RMR SENS will basicly be proven and funding will skyrocket.

Posted by: RS at October 28th, 2016 4:47 AM

Very good news indeed

Posted by: Steve h at October 28th, 2016 5:00 AM

Very exciting news indeed. With more and more experts talking openly about curing aging, and now startups beginning to pull in significant funds to the first genuine rejuvenation treatments, we could be in for more exciting times ahead.

Lets hope some of this money makes its way into the other strands of SENS treatments, so the virtuous circle of further investment and research can begin there too.

So which will be the next SENS treatment to show significant health and lifespan benefits in mice to begin this process?

Removal of AGEs are out - because this can already be done in mice(but not in humans...yet).

Maybe allotropic expression of Mt genes with similar or better results to the mt catalase transgenic mice?

Posted by: Mark at October 28th, 2016 6:08 AM

Some of the other SENS type startups should consider wefunder. This platform, facilitated by legal changes in May 2016, enables small investors to get involved in equity funding of startups. The SENS type of startups have mass appeal and a little bit of equity could encourage more donations than the typical benevolence/tax deduction rationale.

Posted by: Chris at October 28th, 2016 6:24 AM

@Mark

I think removal of amyloid and other misfolded proteins will be next in line. Proclara (formally Neurophage) has a very exciting candidate in GAIM that is able to target multiple different types of misfolded protein and is moving to phase 1b trials for alzheimers. They recently secured 47 million in funding.

Posted by: Link at October 28th, 2016 7:17 AM

As somebody suffering from osteoarthritis in multiple joints, can somebody knowledgeable discuss how senescent cell Clarence can help the joint regenerate? Or will this be more anti inflammatory and palliative as opposed to be curative. Thanks for any insight..

Posted by: Mdf at November 29th, 2016 9:06 AM

@Mdf: You might take a look at some of the papers here:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=senescent+cells+joints

I'd expect inflammation to be an important mechanism, but it certainly looks like senescent chondrocytes are driving the process judging by the animal study in which introducing them is enough to cause arthritis. Regeneration is a separate topic from reducing the rate at which damage happens, however. There I suspect we won't get answers until someone runs the experiment.

Posted by: Reason at November 29th, 2016 10:06 AM

Reason, thanks for the link. I will check it out...

Posted by: Mdf at November 29th, 2016 4:53 PM

@reaon or anybody with an educated opinion. I would be interested in what most on here hold more promise. The samumed wnt modulation or senescent technology for general regeneration therapies..thanks..

Posted by: Mdf at November 29th, 2016 5:18 PM

@Mdf: If specifically regeneration is the goal versus specifically rejuvenation, then very hard to say until both are put into common practice and there is a lot of data from human usage. I've no insight into how removing senescent cells will affect the healing process in the longer term (versus the very short term effect of suppressing wound healing), and one would expect that it won't create more healing than would have happened in a younger version of the patient. Therapies that aim to spur greater than normal regeneration should do better at regeneration simply by virtue of that being their goal.

Posted by: Reason at November 29th, 2016 6:19 PM

@reason, thank you and I tend to agree with you. Looking forward to seeing the results from samumeds phase 2 trial and the upcoming unity trials..thanks again.

Posted by: Mdf at November 29th, 2016 8:00 PM

UNITY states that improving healthspan will NOT increase lifespan. This is contradicted by SENS. Or is UNITY just being cautious and conservative with the language in order not to alienate the public?

Posted by: Adam at January 9th, 2017 9:58 PM

@ Adam : They're more subtle in their latest interview (https://qz.com/878446/unity-biotechnology-cure-for-aging/) :

"Anyway, David bristles at the idea that Unity is an "anti-aging" company. The claim, he says, implies that biologists have already figured out what controls the fundamental ticking of the human aging clock. They haven't."

"While David doesn't believe that his company's therapies will radically increase lifespan, he does see an opportunity to profoundly extend "health span"-body part by body part."

I understand these sentences as a statement that Unity *will* increase lifespan *but* not radically, and that's because they're only addressing one piece of the ageing puzzle. Makes sense, if you ask me.

Posted by: Spede at January 10th, 2017 3:56 AM

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