Jim Mellon [via YouTube]

Health­i­er, longer lifes­pans will be a re­al­i­ty soon­er than you think, Ju­ve­nes­cence promis­es as it clos­es $100M round

Ear­li­er this year, an ex­ec­u­tive from Ju­ve­nes­cence-backed AgeX pre­dict­ed the field of longevi­ty will even­tu­al­ly “dwarf the dot­com boom.” Greg Bai­ley, the UK-based an­ti-ag­ing biotech’s CEO, cer­tain­ly hopes so.

Gre­go­ry Bai­ley

On Mon­day, Ju­ve­nes­cence com­plet­ed its $100 mil­lion Se­ries B round of fi­nanc­ing. The com­pa­ny is backed by British bil­lion­aire Jim Mel­lon — who wrote his 400-page guide to in­vest­ing in the field of longevi­ty short­ly af­ter launch­ing the com­pa­ny in 2017. Bai­ley, who served as a board di­rec­tor for sev­en years at Medi­va­tion be­fore Pfiz­er swal­lowed the biotech for $14 bil­lion, is joined by De­clan Doogan, an in­dus­try vet­er­an with stints at Pfiz­er $PFE and Amarin $AM­RN.

The busi­ness of an­ti-ag­ing is gain­ing steam — Bank of Amer­i­ca has fore­cast the mar­ket will bal­loon to $610 bil­lion by 2025, from an es­ti­mat­ed $110 bil­lion cur­rent­ly — but in­vestors are cau­tious, Bai­ley not­ed in an in­ter­view with End­points News.

“I think there’s a huge amount of skep­ti­cism. There’s an enor­mous num­ber of char­la­tans…I un­der­stand why they would be think­ing you know, is this re­al?” he said. “(W)alk in­to your lo­cal drug­store, you’re go­ing to see about 50 prod­ucts that claim to be an­ti-ag­ing, and I can as­sure you that none of them are. So I think that there’s a healthy dose of skep­ti­cism.”

In­sti­tu­tions tend to move in lock­step when they’re in­vest­ing, he added.

“VCs are as­ton­ish­ing, you know, if one of them buys the yel­low hal­ter top, all of them have to buy a yel­low hal­ter top,” he said, quot­ing tech VC Tim Drap­er.

Bai­ley sug­gest­ed that in­vestors are not quite as en­thu­si­as­tic about plac­ing bets on an­ti-ag­ing, as they are in the tech world. “We’re dra­mat­i­cal­ly be­ing un­der­served…it’s not get­ting the ex­po­sure that tech gets, con­sid­er­ing the size of the mar­ket,” he said. “There is a dis­con­nect on what in­vestors — so­phis­ti­cat­ed in­vestors —  in­sti­tu­tions, how they’re view­ing this, I don’t think they quite grasp how fast this is go­ing to hap­pen, and how big it’s go­ing to be.”

Ju­ve­nes­cence has now raised $165 mil­lion in the last 18 months — in Jan­u­ary it un­veiled the first $46 mil­lion tranche of the Se­ries B — and the mon­ey is be­ing used to fund longevi­ty projects with the lofty goal of ex­tend­ing hu­man lifes­pans to 150 years.

It is a pop­u­lar vi­sion. In­spired by Mel­lon, ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist Sergey Young — who is in charge of all things longevi­ty at the non-prof­it XPRIZE and VC fund BOLD Cap­i­tal Part­ners — un­veiled a $100 mil­lion fund with the same goal in Feb­ru­ary. Google-owned stealthy biotech Cal­i­co is af­ter the same prize — and has part­nered with Ab­b­Vie $AB­BV.

Ju­ve­nes­cence has been busy, col­lab­o­rat­ing with dif­fer­ent groups and set­ting up JVs, such as Alex Zha­voronkov’s AI shop at In­sil­i­co Med­i­cine — and has in­vest­ed in firms in­clud­ing AgeX $AGE and Ly­Ge­n­e­sis. In Feb­ru­ary, Ju­ve­nes­cence de­buted an an­ti-ag­ing joint ven­ture with the Buck In­sti­tute ded­i­cat­ed to in­duc­ing ke­to­sis. In re­cent months, it spawned a new biotech called Sou­vien Ther­a­peu­tics, which is de­vel­op­ing med­i­cines to ad­dress the epi­ge­net­ic un­der­pin­nings of neu­rode­gen­er­a­tive dis­eases, and in­ject­ed $6.5 mil­lion in eq­ui­ty fi­nanc­ing in­to a pre­clin­i­cal meta­bol­ic dis­ease biotech dubbed BY­OMass.

This quar­ter, Ju­ve­nes­cence plans to close three more projects, Bai­ley said. The com­pa­ny is work­ing on for­ti­fy­ing its ma­chine learn­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ty to make sense of huge swathes of da­ta that could help iso­late path­ways to de­vel­op dis­ease-mod­i­fy­ing ther­a­peu­tics, as well as adding prod­ucts to pad its port­fo­lio. The idea is to pur­sue prod­ucts that ad­dress in­flam­ma­tion and fi­bro­sis to slow ag­ing.

Mean­while, the com­pa­ny will main­tain a fo­cus on re­gen­er­a­tion. “I’m mind­ful that if you live to 150, you know, peo­ple don’t want to be all wrin­kled, and in a wheel­chair. So what we want to be able to do is re­gen­er­ate tis­sues,” Bai­ley said.

The plan for an IPO re­mains in place. Yet Bai­ley ac­knowl­edged the com­pa­ny is wary of leap­ing on­to a mar­ket pre­ma­ture­ly, draw­ing a com­par­i­son with plant-based meat sub­sti­tute mak­er Be­yond Meat.

“Clear­ly, we need to have a re­cep­tive mar­ket and…we’ve seen that with Be­yond Meat…so I think that in­vestors are go­ing to come to terms for this in the near fu­ture,” he said. “We’re talk­ing to banks…I think that we’re well-poised, go­ing in­to the next year to do that.”

In the com­ing five to sev­en years, Ju­ve­nes­cence has bold plans. It ex­pects to have at least four an­ti-ag­ing prod­ucts on the mar­ket, Bai­ley said. “I’m hope­ful that we have gone through proof-of-con­cept with three phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal agents and are li­cens­ing with big phar­ma, be­cause we’re not hir­ing 10,000 sales reps. So we’ll let them do that.”

Sci­ence fic­tion is now sci­ence, he un­der­scored. “I think the world is go­ing to be shocked.”

UP­DAT­ED: Roche bags 'break­through' an­ti-fi­bro­sis drug in $1.4B biotech buy­out deal

Roche is snapping up a “breakthrough” anti-fibrotic drug in a $1.4 billion buyout.

The pharma giant announced Friday that it is acquiring Promedior, primarily to get its hands on PRM-151, a recombinant form of human pentraxin-2 (PTX-2) protein that has nailed down mid-stage clinical data on idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and demonstrating its potential for a range of fibrotic conditions.

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Amarin emerges from an ex­pert pan­el re­view with a clear en­dorse­ment for Vas­cepa and high odds of suc­cess when the FDA weighs in for­mal­ly

Several FDA experts who gathered Thursday to consider the landmark approval of Vascepa to reduce cardio events in an at-risk population voiced their unease about various aspects of the efficacy and safety data, or ultimately the population it should be used to treat. But the overwhelming belief that the data pointed to the drug’s benefit and clearly outweighed risks carried the day for Amarin.

The panel voted unanimously (16 to 0) to support the company’s positive data presentation — backing an OK for expanding the label to include reducing cardio risk. The vote points Amarin $AMRN down a short path to a formal decision by the FDA, with the odds heavily in its favor. Chances are the rest of the questions about the future of this drug will be hashed out in the label’s small print.

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No­var­tis spin­out’s first an­ti-ag­ing PhI­II is a flop, so now they’ll turn to Parkin­son’s chal­lenge as shares wilt

Novartis spinout resTORbio is grappling with the collapse of its lead clinical program this morning — an anti-aging R&D failure that will badly damage their rep in the field.

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No­var­tis scores its lat­est FDA OK — this time for a new sick­le cell dis­ease drug picked up in a $665M deal

Novartis’ decision to buy Oklahoma-based biotech Selexys 3 years ago for up to $665 million has paid off with an FDA approval today.

Blessed with the FDA’s breakthrough drug designation for a speedy review, the pharma giant has pinned down an approval for crizanlizumab, a new therapy designed to reduce the frequency of painful incidents of vaso-occlusive crises among sickle cell disease patients 16 or older.

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As­traZeneca gains EU nod for di­a­betes triple; Am­gen and Duke launch re­al-world PC­SK9 ob­ser­va­tion­al study

→ Weeks after winning EU approval to start marketing dapagliflozin as Forxiga, AstraZeneca has racked up another OK for a triplet combo involving the SGLT2 diabetes drug. Named Qtrilmet, the pill combines Forxiga with the DPP-4 inhibitor Onglyza (saxagliptin) and the bedrock drug metformin in a modified-release format. That 3-in-1 approach proved superior in reducing average blood glucose levels to a number of other dual combinations across 5 Phase III trials, including Forxiga plus metformin, Onglyza with metformin, or glimepiride with metformin.

Five drugs, in­clud­ing two No­var­tis ther­a­pies, win EMA en­dorse­ment

As is custom, an EMA panel on Friday issued its weekly recommendations on marketing applications submitted by drug developers. This week, the agency backed the use of five new therapies — including two Novartis drugs — but issued no negative reviews.

Novartis’ S1P drug for relapsing forms of multiple sclerosis (MS) drug, Mayzent (known chemically as siponimod), which was approved by the FDA in March — has been given the nod by the EMA. The Swiss drugmaker already sells its other MS drug, Gilenya, in both regions.

Atom­wise's X-37 spin­out gets $14.5 mil­lion to launch AI dis­cov­ery ef­forts

The folks behind Atomwise’s spinout X-37 like to think in cosmological metaphors, and you can think of their AI drug development model as probes sent into space from a central station. That station just got $14.5 million in Series A funding from DCVC Bio, Alpha Intelligence Capital and Hemi Ventures to back those missions.

X-37 uses Atomwise’s AI platform to identify drug targets and – unlike the parent company, which largely sticks to computers  – bring those into a wet lab and preclinical testing.  In addition to AI professionals, it’s led in by part by drug developers from Velocity Pharmaceutical Development.

Ab­bott Lab­o­ra­to­ries CEO Miles White pass­es ba­ton down to suc­ces­sor; Lon­za CEO Marc Funk hits the ex­it

→ Abbott Laboratories has named a successor to CEO Miles White after he announced that he was stepping down in March after 21 years of service. Robert Ford, the company’s COO and president, will take the helm. Ford is known for his work in the $25 billion merger between St. Jude Medical into Abbott in January 2017. White will remain with the company as executive chairman of the board. 

→ After snapping up Novartis’ Swiss facility, Novartis Center of Excellence, in July, Lonza has announced that their CEO, Marc Funk, is hitting the exit for “personal reasons.” Funk has been the CEO of the company for less than a year — brought onto the company back in March. In the meantime, chairman Albert Baehny will serve as interim CEO. 

UCB adds on more pos­i­tive PhI­II da­ta for IL-17A/17F in­hibitor bimek­izum­ab, clear­ing a path to the FDA

A month after posting positive top-line data from their first Phase III trial of the IL-17A/17F inhibitor bimekizumab, Belgium’s UCB says they’ve added more upbeat results from their second late-stage test in moderate-to-severe plaque psoriasis.

That leaves the company on track for regulatory submissions in the middle of next year, says CMO Iris Loew-Friedrich.
Their drug beat out a placebo on the co-primaries — a 90% improvement in PASI 90 (the Psoriasis Area and Severity Index) and Investigator Global Assessment (IGA) response of clear or almost clear (IGA 0/1) at week 16, compared to placebo. Investigators also boasted of hitting some key secondaries.
UCB is angling to enter an increasingly crowded market space.
In their first of 3 Phase III studies for bimekizumab, researchers touted top-line wins on statistically significant results on clearing plaque psoriasis, including a victory over J&J’s IL-23 contender Stelara on key endpoints. The drug targets both IL-17A and IL-17F, a modification on the IL-17A strategy laid out for Taltz (Eli Lilly) and Cosentyx (Novartis). And the new group also includes J&J’s Tremfya and AbbVie’s Skyrizi.

Social image: UCB