Ichor Therapeutics, led by Kelsey Moody, was one of the first companies to emerge from the core SENS Research Foundation community. The company has grown over the years and is now at the head of a collection of spin-out startups focused on a variety of approaches to aging, such as senolytic therapies to destroy senescent cells (Antoxerene), and clearance of a form of metabolic waste that contributes to macular degeneration (LysoClear). The influx of funding in this field that has taken place over the past couple of years is now powering Ichor Therapeutics forward towards the clinic.
Ichor and its portfolio companies have been very busy over the last year, so I thought it was time that we caught up on progress. Can you tell us how things are going for the Ichor group?
Ichor really had a good year in 2018. We raised over $16 million across our portfolio, and that's allowed us to scale up all aspects of our operations. We're at over 50 employees now, mostly bench scientists and research technicians, and we're really delivering on our goal of being a vertically integrated biopharmaceutical company. What that means is we want to be able to take any idea, regardless of what it is, such as a type of compound or therapeutic indication, and rapidly turn it from the discovery stage, through the pipeline, into the first demand studies. The additional capital that we've raised and the infrastructure that we're putting online are really allowing us to put that all together to support the field of longevity.
Unfortunately, I can't say a whole lot about the progress on FoxBio, except to say that I'm very, very bullish on it and very excited about the prospects and implications. We are very excited to partner with Juvenescence due to the depth of experience that they bring to the drug discovery process and the insights that they have about creating not just strong drug development and discovery programs but also company structures and platforms that allow entities to raise the large amount of capital that is necessary for clinical trials, as it's just a huge value add to the core portfolio. We found them to be great to work with, and we're really excited to expand the scope of that relationship over time.
What's the news on Lysoclear, the therapy for adult age-related adult blindness?
Again, I can't talk a whole lot about the specifics, but we did close a financing round in December of 2018 to move from our proof-of-concept lead drug candidate to a clinical candidate that would be suitable for first-demand studies. We're in the process of putting together our plan to reach IND (investigational new drug) status. IND in the US system is the point at which you're able to go into human trials for the first time. That requires all kinds of backend support, from manufacturing your product under good manufacturing processes (GMP) to toxicology studies and so forth. We were very fortunate last year to recruit a chief medical officer who has a lot of experience in drug development and discovery. He's got about 12 drugs and medical devices under his belt and about 185 clinical trials in the macular degeneration space. We're very enthusiastic to have someone with that depth of expertise, really taking the reins on our clinical planning and making sure that when we're ready with our candidate to pull the trigger, we're able to navigate clinical and regulatory issues that might arise.
An area that has been problematic in the past has been taking the research from a basic stage to a translational point where it can then go to market. Has that improved in the last few years?
Yeah, I think so. I think there's a lot of academic labs in particular now that have an eye for spinning out companies, particularly with new groups emerging in the area. Juvenescence, of course, is licensing different types of technology and having a partnership with the Buck Institute, for example, and Life Biosciences, a new player in the space, is bringing in substantial amounts of capital to assist academic labs with translating programs. What's really exciting about all of this is when you bring these sophisticated drug developers into this space, you're adding a certain level of robustness to the discovery process that might not necessarily exist in a traditional academic setting. It really allows you to combine the best of both worlds.
How did you develop your career from someone who was a high school and college athlete to where you are now?
Well, like a lot of people that are really trying to start companies and do things in this space, I started by reading a book, Aubrey de Grey's book, in fact, Ending Aging, which I think was published a little over a decade now. I told myself that I'm going to switch to biochemistry as a major, and I'm going to pursue this line of work until I am certain that Aubrey is wrong. Despite my very best efforts, I have not been able to get to any sort of definitive conclusion on that. He still might be, and many have tried to prove him wrong, but the trend is in his favor. That, of course, took me to work with Aubrey at SENS Research Foundation and various startups in Silicon Valley and then eventually become a medical student where I currently am.
One of the really interesting things that I think is underappreciated about the SENS paradigm, and is a central component to how we're structuring our companies, is really this damage repair approach. A lot of people like the SENS damage repair approach that Aubrey put forth because it's something that we can understand and the whole argument of sidestepping the ignorance of metabolism, and so forth. What's underappreciated by most people that do drug development, that I think is worth highlighting here, is that the sorts of therapies that would emerge from this line of thinking are therapies that are going to be used intermittently, and that is hugely beneficial from a development perspective. That creates a huge opportunity for drug developers to bring in whole new classes of drugs that are actually able to mitigate many of these diseases of aging in a way that's rather unprecedented and very much defies the chronic-administration sort of model that we're familiar with in this space.