Anti-aging startup Unity dives into eye diseases as partnership with Ascentage bears fruit

After more than two years of hunting for treasure in Ascentage’s library of cell death regulating compounds, Unity Biotechnology thinks it has found a winner to guide its foray into age-related eye diseases.

Unity, which went public with a slate of mouse data backing its anti-aging pipeline last year, plans to file an IND for UBX1967 in the second half of 2019.

The drug inhibits particular members of the Bcl-2 family of proteins, known to play a regulatory role in apoptosis, or cell death. While Ascentage’s in-house work on this technology has focused on its cancer applications, it also fits well with Unity’s approach to selectively eliminate senescent cells — by targeting proteins they rely on for survival.

Dan Marquess

There will be plenty of ground to cover in the clinical program from neovascular age-related macular degeneration to proliferative diabetic retinopathy to diabetic macular edema, whichever Unity chooses to pursue first.

“UBX1967 represents a novel approach to treating age-related eye diseases, potentially eliminating the source of multiple disease-causing factors,” said Unity CSO Dan Marquess in a statement.

And in case it doesn’t pan out, the license agreement also gives San Francisco-based Unity rights to a back-up Bcl-2 inhibitor.

Dajun Yang

Meanwhile, Ascentage stands to receive an unspecified upfront in shares of Unity’s stock $UBX as well as cash milestone payments. Per the 2016 pact, should Unity choose to license at least one more products, the Chinese biotech will gain a total of 1,333,338 shares, a spokesperson tells me.

Not that Ascentage is in a hurry to cash in. Flush with a $150 million raise from last July, CEO Dajun Yang led the company into an IPO filing on the Hong Kong stock exchange.

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