An Interview with James Peyer of Apollo Ventures

Apollo Ventures is one of the more recent additions to the presently small number of funds focused on investment in the longevity science space, and here I'll point out an interview with one of their founding partners. The Apollo principals are distinguished by being somewhat more vocal than most of their peers, the Methuselah Fund founders aside. To pick one example, the fund has launched the Geroscience online magazine to help advance the position that treating aging as a medical condition is both viable and desirable. As technologies based on the SENS view of achieving rejuvenation through damage repair arrive at the point of commercial viability, it is increasingly important that a healthy venture investment ecosystem exists to fund the biotech startups needed to push therapies towards the clinic.

Last week we talked with James Peyer, a partner at Apollo Ventures, to ask a few questions about how biotech is tackling the anti-aging space. For a long time, the anti-aging field has not seen much innovation, both due to a lack of scientific know-how as well as a lack of confidence on the part of pharma and regulatory agencies. Yet, in the past years, the field has started to turn into one of the most hyped areas in biotech, marked by the launch of companies like Unity Biotechnology, which recently raked in $116M in venture funding or Calico, which was co-founded by Google in 2013. Referring to a review article on the hallmarks of aging, Peyer explains that "within the last 5 years, our understanding has gone from theory and hypothesis-driven to really coalescing a strong data-driven knowledge base. The geroscience space has at least 80 mutations or chemicals that have been shown with some level of conviction to extend the healthy life span of a mouse."

Peyer mentions a group of scientists from Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York that have been piloting such a preventative medicine study with a 7-year trial, to test whether the generic drug metformin can delay the onset of age-related conditions. "This model of a 7-year clinical trial though, that's not really something that can be easily translated to a commercial model with a patented drug. But what's going to come out of those trials in the next 5-10 years are biomarkers that will give us a hint on whether or not a drug is working to reduce the risk of age-related diseases, and then that biomarker could be used in future trials."

Apollo is following a slightly different path, though. The VC aims to go after geriatric syndromes, such as osteoarthritis, that are actually treatable medical conditions. "You'll be really focused on one indication that's a real clinical opportunity and move that towards the clinic just as you would with a traditional oncology drug or osteoarthritis drug. That's the opportunity that Apollo is really excited about and then, of course, there is the vision in the longer term that those two paths will come together and create a world where we can actually do preventive clinical trials. The big players that are now coming into the area are technology players like Jeff Bezos or Google. The internet space has attracted so much investment but the return profiles in this space actually look much worse compared to biopharma both in the US and the EU."


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