Anti-aging biotech upstart plucks a drug from Amgen's discard pile, pivoting from heart failure to muscle conditions
Back in April 2019, Amgen quietly shut down a Phase I trial for a drug named AMG 986. There was no safety concern; the molecule just didn’t hit the mark on helping the small band of heart failure patients who received it.
A small biotech, though, believes it would stand a chance in the burgeoning anti-aging field.
BioAge Labs has licensed AMG 986 — now renamed BGE-105 — with plans to parlay the existing IND into a quick Phase I trial teasing out the pharmacodynamic effects and set the stage for mid-stage tests focused on acute muscle indications.
BGE-105 mimics the effect of apelin, an endogenous ligand that boosts the production of APJ, a receptor that tends to be downregulated as people grow older. By combing through decades of health data from thousands of healthy volunteers tracked by their biobank partners, the biotech had zeroed in on the apelin/APJ pathway as one key molecular driver of aging, CEO Kristen Fortney said.
“Our longevity map identifies probably several dozen pathways that matter for human aging, and we’re choosing strategically to focus first on the ones that are the most well known,” she added, “where there is asset available to go immediately into the clinic.”
She imagines there are about 10 such programs out there, representing a range of mechanistic bets, that they can bring in before turning to discovery efforts. The apelin/APJ one is the third, lining up after two others targeting the hypoxia-inducible factor and PGD2 DP1.
Along the search for assets BioAge connected with Cedric Dray at France’s INSERM, who had found that injecting mice with apelin peptide enhanced muscle function considerably, but that natural molecule has a short half-life of only 5 minutes. He helped test the Amgen molecule in his mouse models, cementing the licensing deal.
Like most of the anti-aging outfits, Fortney expects to start with acute indications where BioAge can quickly generate clinical data and get regulatory approvals — one example is preventing muscle atrophy for immobilized patients in hospitals — before moving on to long-term chronic use in things like muscle regeneration and frailty.
“Ideally our drugs would follow a development path like a statin, where they’re first approved for a narrow indication and widen over time” until they’re prescribed to anyone over a certain age with risk factors, Fortney said.
There’s a lot to prove in the young anti-aging space, with lofty goals that have been well-documented and well-satirized. Backed by high-profile investors like Andreessen Horowitz and serial entrepreneur Elad Gil of Airbnb fame, BioAge Labs has recently brought its total funding to $127 million and grown the team to 35.
“Frankly very few mechanisms have even been tried in the clinic,” she said. “We’re sort of at the very beginning.”