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.”

Qual­i­ty Con­trol in Cell and Gene Ther­a­py – What’s Re­al­ly at Stake?

In early 2021, Bluebird Bio was forced to suspend clinical trials of its gene therapy for sickle cell disease after two patients in the trial developed cancer. As company scientists rushed to assess whether there was any causal link between the therapy and the cancer cases, Bluebird’s stock value plummeted – as did those of multiple other biopharma companies developing similar therapies.

While investigations concluded that the gene therapy was unlikely to have caused cancer, investors and the public may be more skittish regarding the safety of gene and cell therapies after this episode. This recent example highlights how delicate the fields of cell and gene therapy remain today, even as they show great promise.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) (Graeme Sloan/Sipa USA/Sipa via AP Images)

Sen­a­tors to NIH: Do more to pro­tect US bio­med­ical re­search from for­eign in­flu­ence

Although Thursday’s Senate health committee hearing was focused on how foreign countries and adversaries might be trying to steal or negatively influence biomedical research in the US, the only country mentioned by the senators and expert witnesses was China.

Committee chair Patty Murray (D-WA) made clear in her opening remarks that the US cannot “let the few instances of bad actors” overshadow the hard work of the many immigrant researchers in the US, many of which have won Nobel prizes for their work. But she also said, “There is more the NIH can be doing here.”

Brad Bolzon (Versant)

Ver­sant pulls the wraps off of near­ly $1B in 3 new funds out to build the next fleet of biotech star­tups. And this new gen­er­a­tion is built for speed

Brad Bolzon has an apology to offer by way of introducing a set of 3 new funds that together pack a $950 million wallop in new biotech creation and growth.

“I want to apologize,” says the Versant chairman and managing partner, laughing a little in the intro, “that we don’t have anything fancy or flashy to tell you about our new fund. Same team, around the same amount of capital, same investment strategy. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

But then there’s the flip side, where everything has changed. Or at least speeded into a relative blur. Here’s Bolzon:

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JP Gabriel, Ocugen

JP Gabriel watched from the bleach­ers as the pan­dem­ic raged. Now head of sup­ply chain at Ocu­gen, he's ready to bat

The world was in the middle of the most pressing public health risk his generation had ever seen, and JP Gabriel felt like he was sitting on the sidelines. As a VP of biologics and mRNA manufacturing at Ultragenyx, Gabriel watched from the sidelines as players like Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna used mRNA tech to chase their own Covid-19 vaccines.

This month, Gabriel got the chance to get his hands dirty against the pandemic — but it won’t be with mRNA.

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Jenny Rooke (Genoa Ventures)

Ear­ly Zymer­gen in­vestor Jen­ny Rooke re­flects on 'chimeras' in biotech, what it takes to spot a $500M gem

When Jenny Rooke first heard of Zymergen back in 2014, she knew she was looking at something different and exciting. The Emeryville, CA biotech held the promise of blending biology and technology to solve a huge unmet need for cost-effective chemicals — of all things — and a stellar founding team to boot.

But back then, West Coast venture capitalists didn’t see in Zymergen the one thing they were looking for in a winning biotech: therapeutic potential. Rooke, however, saw an opportunity and made her bets. Seven years later, that bet is paying off in a big way.

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Saurabh Saha at Endpoints News' #BIO19

On the heels of $250M launch, Centes­sa barges ahead with an IPO to fu­el its 10-in-1 Medicxi pipeline

Francesco De Rubertis made no secret of IPO plans for Centessa, his 10-in-1 legacy play. Barely two months later, the S-1 is in.

The hot-off-the-press filing depicts the same grand vision that the longtime VC touted when he did the rounds in February: Take the asset-centric mindset that he’s been preaching at Medicxi over the years, and roll up a bunch of biotech upstarts, with unrelated risk profiles, into 1 pharma company that can carry on the development at scale.

Law pro­fes­sors call for FDA to dis­close all safe­ty and ef­fi­ca­cy da­ta for drugs

Back in early 2018 when Scott Gottlieb led the FDA, there was a moment when the agency seemed poised to release redacted complete response letters and other previously undisclosed data. But that initiative never gained steam.

Now, a growing chorus of researchers are finding that a dearth of public data on clinical trials and pharmaceuticals means industry and the FDA cannot be held accountable, two law professors from Yale and New York University write in an article published Wednesday in the California Law Review.

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Novavax CEO Stanley Erck at the White House in 2020 (Andrew Harnik, AP Images)

As fears mount over J&J and As­traZeneca, No­vavax en­ters a shaky spot­light

As concerns rise around the J&J and AstraZeneca vaccines, global attention is increasingly turning to the little, 33-year-old, productless, bankruptcy-flirting biotech that could: Novavax.

In the now 16-month race to develop and deploy Covid-19 vaccines, Novavax has at times seemed like the pandemic’s most unsuspecting frontrunner and at times like an overhyped also-ran. Although they started the pandemic with only enough cash to last 6 months, they leveraged old connections and believers into $2 billion and emerged last summer with data experts said surpassed Pfizer and Moderna. They unveiled plans to quickly scale to 2 billion doses. Then they couldn’t even make enough material to run their US trial and watched four other companies beat them to the finish line.

FDA of­fers scathing re­view of Emer­gent plan­t's san­i­tary con­di­tions, em­ploy­ee train­ing af­ter halt­ing pro­duc­tion

The FDA wrapped up its inspection of Emergent’s troubled vaccine manufacturing plant in Baltimore on Tuesday, after halting production there on Monday. By Wednesday morning, the agency already released a series of scathing observations on the cross contamination, sanitary issues and lack of staff training that caused the contract manufacturer to dispose of millions of AstraZeneca and J&J vaccine doses.