Bob Nelsen exits board and president steps down at Unity as fallout from the anti-aging biotech's PhII miss continues
Unity Biotechnology is still reeling roughly four months after axing its lead program, as it saw significant change at the executive level Monday.
The company announced that ARCH Venture Partners’ Bob Nelsen, one of Unity’s co-founders back in 2011, has left the board. In addition, president and co-founder Ned David is stepping down at the end of the year, and another board member, David Lacey, is also leaving the biotech.
With the departures, Unity is appointing Gilmore O’Neill to the board to chair the company’s science committee.
“We are incredibly grateful to Ned, Bob and Dave for their service,” chairman Keith Leonard said in a statement. “Ned’s early research into fundamental pathways of aging biology form the foundation of UNITY. Bob played an instrumental role in creating and shaping a company targeting diseases of aging, and David’s drug discovery insights have shaped our pipeline.”
Monday’s moves were not the first departures since Unity’s lead program flopped a major Phase II in osteoarthritis of the knee in August. That whiff set this restructuring in motion, and Nelsen had long been one of the headliners in a celebrity group of investors that also included Jeff Bezos and Peter Thiel. Unity had raised more than $200 million over the last decade, hoping its big-name partners could vault it to the forefront of the buzzy anti-aging field.
The company previously said in September it was slashing its workforce by 30% in order to continue its refocusing toward ophthalmology and neurology, putting the San Francisco-based biotech on track to employ 75 full-timers by the end of 2020.
August’s trial miss itself involved a 183-person study for what was then Unity’s only clinical program, UBX0101. Patients in the treatment arms showed virtually no difference compared to those taking placebo, and the candidate didn’t even register a dose-dependent response.
Only patients who received the lowest dose numerically outperformed the control, but the p-value clocked in at an abysmal p=0.52.
Unity’s big theory revolves around what are known as senescent cells — non-dividing cells that clutter an aging body. Unity says the buildup in such cells is associated with the release of dozens of proteins that promote inflammation, and removing them, without altering the balance of cells the body needs, could promote a longer, healthier life.
With the osteoarthritis program scrapped, Unity is now focusing on a different group of senescent cells for eye diseases. The next experimental drug is UBX1325, which is designed to target Bcl-xL. And if all goes according to plan, Unity expects to dose the first patients in a Phase I study for the candidate later this year.