I'm pleased to note that the Methuselah Fund has closed its first fundraising effort after hitting the target amount, obtaining the support of many long-standing members of our community. The fund is a mixed for-profit/non-profit vehicle that is intended to expand the investment efforts undertaken by the Methuselah Foundation in past years, helping promising lines of rejuvenation research to make the leap from laboratory to commercial development. At the present point in time there are few enough rejuvenation focused companies that doing this well requires extensive connections within the research community, and a willingness to step in and help specific teams and lines of work to crystallize into startup companies sooner than might otherwise have been the case. Traditional venture capital tends to do more sitting on the sidelines, waiting for opportunities to arise. That works, more or less, in a more mature field, but not here, not yet.
Given the rise of senolytics startups and the notable financial success of Unity Biotechnology, an increasing number of venture funds are starting to pay attention and take the treatment of aging seriously. Their principals should take notes regarding the the activities of the highly connected early participants - such as the Methuselah Fund, Longevity Fund, Kizoo Technology Ventures, and so forth - as following the standard biotechnology venture playbook probably won't work all that well for another few years at least. This is a field in the early stages of a sweeping transition and what will ultimately be enormous growth, in which one really has to dive in and get to know the researchers and research programs. Success comes from reaching into academia and helping companies to form; backing specific models of intervention and specific researchers, not the offerings of specific companies and entrepreneurs.
The Methuselah Foundation, promoting the extension of the healthy human lifespan for 17 years, announces the successful closing of fundraising for its boutique venture fund, Methuselah Funds LLC (M Fund). The M Fund is mission-oriented and focused on seed-stage companies that have technology to increase the healthy human lifespan in multiple ways. The investment thesis of the M Fund is based around six pathfinding strategies that provide a structure to how the Fund believes healthy longevity can be achieved. These strategies have been purposefully named in a non-academic way in order to explain the thought process via analogies and recognizable ideas. These strategies and the details are:
1) New Parts for People - As we age, the wear and tear we put on our bodies begins to take a toll. As one body component begins to weaken, this leads to an exponential strain on the body that stresses remaining parts, leading to failure and eventual death. This strategy focuses on technologies that create replacement parts of our bodies, such as organs, cartilage, bones, and vasculature.
2) Get the Crud Out - Cellular processes of life result in by-products that are harmful if not cleared by the cell. As we age, there is an increasing amount of DNA damage and accumulation of wastes, which negatively affect cellular and organ function. This strategy focuses on technologies that clear harmful substances from the body at both the microscopic (cellular), and macroscopic (organ) level.
3) Restore the Rivers - As an individual ages, the vascular system becomes less effective due to vessel stiffening, less effective pumping, insufficient waste clearance, poor oxygen exchange, and inadequate angiogenesis. This affects every process of the body, down to the sub-cellular level. This strategy addresses the need to restore the circulatory system to youthful competence.
4) Debug the Code - The code includes DNA, and also the "action code", RNA, and proteins that actually do the work of the cells, which become damaged and altered with age. This strategy deals with the informational life of the cell and its expression.
5) Restock the Shelves - As we age, stem cells become fewer and less effective, senescent cells become more prolific, and the immune system becomes weakened. This strategy addresses the need to provide the aged body with the tools required to rebuild and protect itself.
6) Lust for Life - Among the aged, depression, loss of purpose, loss of senses, loss of independence, and social isolation are serious problems. This strategy addresses the need to help elderly patients want to increase their longevity, and to empower them to make the most of longer life.
The M Fund was conceived after successful angel mission-focused investments by the Methuselah Foundation. These include being the lead investor in the seed-stage round of Organovo Holdings, Inc, a medical laboratory and research company which designs and develops functional, three-dimensional human tissue for medical research and therapeutic applications. Investment in the longevity field is heating up significantly and the M Fund anticipates that investments will begin pouring into the area over the next 18 months. The M Fund's current portfolio companies include:
OncoSenX - A pre-clinical cancer company that targets solid tumors based on transcriptional activity using a unique lipid nanoparticle and plasmid DNA. OncoSenX is working on the next generation in cancer therapy that will be more targeted and with fewer side effects. Their treatment delivers a simple program that induces apoptosis in cancerous cells.
Leucadia - Has a unique and compelling approach on how to potentially predict, halt, and cure early stage Alzheimer's disease. 25 years of research have focused on plaques and tangles as the cause of AD. At Leucadia, it is known that those are previously undiscovered pathological effects of a more serious underlying condition. Leucadia's technology may allow for the creation of a simple, yet sophisticated surgical procedure bypassing the unsuccessful small-molecule approach.
Oisin - Their research and platform technology demonstrate that one of the solutions to mitigating the effects of age-related diseases is to address the damage resulting from the aging process itself. Oisín is developing a highly precise, DNA-targeting platform to clear senescent cells. Oisín's platform has shown as much as an 80% reduction in senescent cells in cell culture and significant reductions of senescent cell burden in naturally aged mice.
Revercell - Is developing global and transformational epigenetic solutions, moving past the single gene/pathway manipulations of traditional approaches, to address the multifaceted manifestation of cellular age, with tissue and organ level benefit. The company is developing the technology to effectively turn mature differentiated cells to a dramatically younger state, without first turning them into totipotent or pluripotent cells.