Having written retrospectives for 2020, longevity industry observers are now looking forward to what we might expect in 2021. This survey of companies and projects in the longevity industry is unbiased from the point of view of whether or not the treatments under development are expected to have a sizable effect on human aging. Can they slow aging or actually reverse aging meaningfully? It is more focused on progress on startups, business matters, and potential for profit.
One of the many issues with the highly regulated medical development market is that success in investment is only somewhat connected to success in generating a therapy. Liquidity events for investors in early stage biotech companies occur well before clinical approval by regulators, and thus incentives are not completely aligned. Merely fleshing out animal data and applying hype to a given mechanism (see the Sitris Pharmaceuticals story, for example) can work just as well as actually setting out to build a viable therapy that can have sizable effects on aging, when it comes to giving investors a sizable return on investment.
Further, the market values (a) incremental, modest advances that are easier to explain to regulators, and that fit in existing frameworks for evaluation over (b) radical, ambitious advances based on entirely new approaches that will require greater effort to obtain approval. In the treatment of aging as a medical condition, we need those radical, ambitious advances. The incremental, modest advances (such as yet another way to mimic calorie restriction, as if we need more of those) are not going to move the needle all that much on human life span. People will still be aging and dying in much the same way as their parents and grandparents did.
Jim Mellon, billionaire patron saint of longevity investing, announced in September 2020 that he would take his longevity portfolio company, Juvenescence, public within 6-12 months. Juvenescence's diversified portfolio of 11 assets spans the gamut of senolytics, AI companies, regenerative medicine, and nutraceutical products. The Juvenescence IPO will be the biggest development in public market longevity investing since Unity Biotechnology went public in 2018. And because Juvenescence is a diversified portfolio of longevity companies it best represents the entire industry going forward.
Kristen Fortney's AI / computational drug discovery company BioAge recently closed a Series C round and will use the funds to initiate Phase 2 clinical trials this year. BioAge uses AI, machine learning, and systems biology models to mine multi-omics patient datasets and identify existing drugs that are likely to treat age-related disease. Since BioAge's strategy is to repurpose existing drugs they are able to go straight to Phase 2 trials.
Nir Barzilai recently gave an online talk with the Foresight Institute. In the talk he mentioned that an unnamed wealthy individual was in the process of setting up a longevity foundation that would invest $1 billion into anti-aging research and companies per year. Barzilai said the foundation would be announced in January of this year. Who could be the mysterious donor? Nir Barzilai indicated it is the same mysterious person that is funding the TAME trial and is a well known tech billionaire. My guess: It's Larry Ellison, founder of Oracle. He has a net worth of $88 billion and is 76 years old. Ellison has also donated to longevity causes in the past through the Ellison Medical Foundation. My second guess is Sergey Brin of Google.
2020 was a disastrous year for Unity Biotechnology. But 2021 could be a year of redemption for Unity. Their new Phase 1 trial for UBX1325, a Bcl-xL inhibitor to treat Diabetic Macular Edema (DME), will be completed in the first half of this year, with a proof of concept trial to follow shortly afterwards. I am cautiously optimistic for Unity Biotechnology. But I am also totally unworried if they fail, as there are many many other senolytics companies preparing for clinical trials - many with 2nd generation targeted approaches that may prove superior to Unity's.
2021 will be the year that more senolytics companies finally join Unity in the clinical race. And many of these companies are using 2nd gen targeted approaches to clear senescent cells. FoxBio, a Juvenescence and Ichor Therapeutics senolytics joint venture, is planning Phase 1 trials for an osteoarthritis drug this year. Numeric Biotech, a spin out from Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands, is planning to test the FOXO4-DRI peptide. Senolytic Therapeutics, one of David Sinclair's Life Biosciences daughter companies, has two mature assets that should be close to ready for clinical trials - although there is no set date.