Unity Biotechnology is no longer just a senotherapeutics company, focused on tackling the contribution of senescent cells to degenerative aging. The principals have now branched out into the development of therapies based on increasing circulating levels of klotho, a protein found to affect, at the very least, both kidney function and cognitive function. It was discovered some time ago in mice that raised levels of klotho modestly slow aging, while lowered levels accelerate aging. Research into klotho is actually at a very interesting point right now, with researchers close to being able to determine whether the cognitive function effects are actually mediated outside the brain, such as in the aging kidney. Declining kidney function is well known to cause cognitive decline, among the many other harms it inflicts on the body.
Unity Biotechnologies has raised an enormous amount of funding, which gives them considerable leeway to adopt new programs that fit their overall vision of tackling aging. But near every company in the growing longevity industry, at every scale of funding, can do much the same. Indeed, I think that they should. There are many more projects worthy of development than there are entrepreneurs at this time, and this will continue to be the case for years yet. The research community is littered with very interesting, promising foundations for therapies to treat aging, at or close to the point at which they can be handed over to commercial development. Most were abandoned for no better reasons than grant awarding bodies are excessively conservative, funding is constrained, and the institutions of academia and industry are largely incapable of talking coherently to one another, let alone managing a complex marketplace of hand-offs from lab to startup company. We need to do better than this.
UNITY Biotechnology, Inc. ("UNITY"), a biotechnology company developing therapeutics to extend healthspan by slowing, halting or reversing diseases of aging, and UC San Francisco (UCSF) today announced that UNITY executed an exclusive, worldwide license to UCSF intellectual property relating to the alpha-Klotho protein, a circulating factor associated with improved cognitive performance.
The alpha-Klotho protein was initially identified in mice as an "aging-suppressor" that accelerates aging when the gene encoding it is disrupted, and slows aging when the alpha-Klotho protein is over-produced. In 2017 it was reported that when the alpha-Klotho protein was injected into mice it reversed the deleterious effects of aging and age-related disease on cognition.
"Circulating levels of alpha-Klotho protein gradually decline as we age. Yet, a small percentage of the population possesses naturally elevated alpha-Klotho levels that are associated with extended healthspan, enhanced cognition and less age-associated cognitive decline. We are exploring the utility of the alpha-Klotho protein in collaboration with world-renowned researchers from UCSF, with a goal to identify a potential drug candidate to treat particular diseases of aging, including cognitive decline."