Apollo Ventures is one of the first wave of investor concerns focused on the treatment of aging, and the principals and staff have put a fair amount of work into building a model for finding and commercializing promising research. They also publish the Geroscience popular science site, which is a helpful act of advocacy for the wider cause. As is the case for near all bigger venture funding organizations, they have a senolytics company (Cleara Biotech) in their portfolio, and thus the SENS model for rejuvenation is advanced.
What initially attracted you to aging as a general discipline?
Through multiple, orthogonal, potentially synergistic interventions, we are able to extend the healthy lifespan of model organisms. In mice, the ablation of senescent cells can extend median lifespan by 30%. The augmentation of autophagy and the transient re-activation of telomerase yield similar rejuvenating effects. These interventions should be combined, as they may be synergistic. It is only a matter of time before these interventions are working in the clinic. This kind of evidence was enough for me to commit my career to geroscience because, many years ago, I saw that the 'writing is on the wall' - thanks to advances in molecular biology, healthy life extension is no longer science fiction. This century, geroscience will be a paradigm shift comparable to the antibiotics revolution in the last century.
What is the main challenge you have faced as a longevity investor?
Most geroscientists are not working on translational research. They are basic scientists. Basic science is the bedrock of everything we do, but it's not enough. Pharma has dropped the ball in drug discovery and development, and there is a major gap in the pipeline between academic proof-of-concept and drug development. There is not enough collaboration between biologists, chemists, and drug hunters. The transition through the 'valley of death' of drug development is where company-building venture capital firms such as Apollo Ventures can step in. For example, there are many biologists with data showing that gene X or protein Y, when modulated, has salutary effects. They might even identify a 'hit' molecule, such as a natural product or library compound that modulates the target or mechanism of action, but they usually don't partner with chemists to perform medicinal chemistry optimization, pharm/tox, and validation in multiple animal models of disease.
The other challenge is that, as investors, we don't see many established, aging-focused biotechs that satisfy our investment criteria. The science may be solid, but the team is lacking, or vice versa. There are not many experienced C-level biotech managers out there, and few understand geroscience. This will change once the field has a few clinical successes. Then the floodgates will open.
What can we expect from you and Apollo Ventures in 2019?
We will unveil a few more geroscience companies that are currently in stealth mode. Apollo will continue to build our internal team as well. We are looking for people with talent in both geroscience and biotech business management. Apollo was founded by a partnership of successful entrepreneurs and aging scientists with expertise in the biopharma and management consulting businesses. The depth of scientific expertise and biopharma business acumen within Apollo is unique in the geroscience space. Another distinguishing feature is that Apollo is focused more heavily on company building than other investors who are oriented toward investing in pre-established companies.