The biotechs promising to slow down ageing

Unity Biotechnology is a biotech based in San Francisco, California, listed in May (Nasdaq), with the ambitious objective to develop treatments slowing down ageing and increasing patients’ life expectancy.  Unity Biotechnology’s targets are ageing cells, also referred to as zombie cells: they can no longer reproduce and they release a protein that causes inflammation and damages to surrounding tissues. The discoveries of new procedures to attack and neutralize zombie cells have been reported in various articles published in the prestigious journal Nature over the last two years.

Unity Biotechnology’s pipeline includes a therapy (UBX0101) undergoing Phase I clinical trial in patients with knee osteoarthritis. Additionally, the young biotech markets therapies for glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, systemic sclerosis with pulmonary manifestations and kidney disorder.

It comes as no surprise that Unity Biotechnology’s ambitious program has attracted many investors, including Jeff Bezos (Amazon) and Founders Fund Peter Thiel, who grant approximately $184m in cash.

Additionally, a large number of biotechs offers new DNA tests and telomeres aimed at detecting predisposition to certain diseases and, therefore, at proposing measures to prevent them. Among these, Life Lenght, which has  recently closed a private fund-raising campaign, is worth mentioning.

Investors are also interested in the partnership announced by AbbVie and Calico (part of Alphabet-Google), aimed at developing new therapies slowing down cell ageing for the treatment of cancers and other neurodegenerative diseases. The two companies have been partners since 2014, jointly producing nearly 20 drug candidates undergoing testing, and renewed their partnership in June.

Despite these ambitious programs, and although analysts expect the anti-aging products market to steadily grow, with a CAGR of 5.8% to 8% until 2021 and a market worth $331bn, the financial return to investors in the business is still modest. Many people probably still remember the $720m paid by GSK for biotech Sirtris, which promised an unrivaled anti-ageing technology that turned out to be a flop, indeed the company closed down in 2014.