Aubrey de Grey (Mikhail Voskresenskiy/Sputnik via AP Images)

UP­DAT­ED: Lead­ing an­ti-ag­ing re­searcher Aubrey de Grey ac­cused of sex­u­al ha­rass­ment by two col­leagues, in­clud­ing while one was a mi­nor

Two women came for­ward with sex­u­al ha­rass­ment al­le­ga­tions against a promi­nent an­ti-ag­ing re­searcher Tues­day evening, ac­cus­ing the sci­en­tist of mak­ing in­ap­pro­pri­ate re­marks while serv­ing as their men­tor as his or­ga­ni­za­tion looked the oth­er way.

Aubrey de Grey, CSO of the SENS Re­search Foun­da­tion, is al­leged to have en­gaged in preda­to­ry be­hav­ior to­ward Ce­line Halioua and Lau­ra Dem­ing, in­clud­ing while Dem­ing was a mi­nor. Halioua and Dem­ing wrote about their ex­pe­ri­ences with de Grey on their Twit­ter ac­counts and per­son­al web­sites, and as­sert­ed they fall in­to part of a larg­er pat­tern of ha­rass­ment and tox­i­c­i­ty sur­round­ing de Grey and SENS.

“There was kind of a sex­u­al un­der­cur­rent in every­thing that SENS did,” Halioua said in an in­ter­view Wednes­day af­ter­noon with End­points News. “As an in­tern, it was made clear that there was a rank­ing of the at­trac­tive­ness of the in­terns, and I was one of the ‘hot­ter’ ones.”

She added, “I knew that Aubrey thought I was at­trac­tive, and that was made ex­plic­it.”

De Grey de­clined to com­ment be­yond a lengthy Face­book de­nial post­ed ear­ly Wednes­day morn­ing. In an emailed state­ment, SENS said it placed de Grey on ad­min­is­tra­tive leave soon af­ter it learned of the al­le­ga­tions in late June.

Dem­ing says she first came in con­tact with de Grey when she was around 14 years old. As an as­pir­ing sci­en­tist, she emailed sev­er­al promi­nent fig­ures seek­ing ad­vice for how to break in­to the field, and de Grey was among the re­cip­i­ents. He served as an in­for­mal men­tor to her, and they re­con­nect­ed lat­er when he in­ter­viewed her for a fel­low­ship pro­gram.

At the age of 17, Dem­ing says de Grey sent her an in­ap­pro­pri­ate email from his work ad­dress, in which he de­tailed his “ad­ven­tur­ous love life,” and ad­mit­ted he had con­sid­ered let­ting their con­ver­sa­tions “stray in that di­rec­tion.”

“I was 17, and I as­sumed that I had done some­thing ter­ri­bly wrong” by en­ter­ing the field at such a young age, Dem­ing said in an in­ter­view. In her post, she added that in­stances like these made her con­sid­er leav­ing the field on mul­ti­ple oc­ca­sions.

Four to five years lat­er, Halioua says she was a SENS-fund­ed stu­dent when de Grey made sex­u­al re­marks to her at a din­ner with SENS ex­ec­u­tives and donors. She said de Grey “fun­neled me al­co­hol and hit on me the en­tire night,” and told her she had a “re­spon­si­bil­i­ty to have sex with the SENS donors in at­ten­dance so they would give mon­ey to him.”

Halioua had ini­tial­ly joined SENS as a fresh­man in col­lege and says de Grey would dis­cuss his sex life at work. In her post Tues­day night, Halioua fur­ther ac­cused an­oth­er un­named ex­ec­u­tive of ha­rass­ing her so se­vere­ly she dropped out of her PhD pro­gram. She says her com­plaint spurred a le­gal in­ves­ti­ga­tion, which didn’t amount to much.

“It was just in­ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­ior for months and months and months, both from a sex­ism stand­point and from a ha­rass­ment stand­point,” she said of the un­named ex­ec­u­tive Wednes­day.

Both Halioua and Dem­ing say they will no longer as­so­ciate with de Grey or SENS in any ca­pac­i­ty. Dem­ing wrote she de­cid­ed to come for­ward now be­cause she does not have con­fi­dence SENS will act to pre­vent de Grey from ha­rass­ing more women in the fu­ture.

“It might be an open se­cret in the longevi­ty com­mu­ni­ty that this is a prob­lem, but kids on the in­ter­net don’t have ac­cess to that in­for­ma­tion, and Aubrey is still men­tor­ing mi­nors,” Dem­ing wrote. “So, we’re mak­ing our ex­pe­ri­ences pub­lic.”

As part of de Grey’s lengthy Face­book de­nial, he con­tend­ed Halioua and Dem­ing have been “set up” by un­named third par­ties. While de Grey claims there are no oth­er ac­cusers, he wrote: “I’m putting it out there right now: if oth­er ac­cusers come for­ward with sup­port­ing ev­i­dence, I will step aside a great deal faster than [New York Gov. An­drew] Cuo­mo just did.”

But with­in the de­nial, de Grey con­firmed send­ing the lewd email to Dem­ing while she was 17, an email he said he wrote “in­ad­vis­ed­ly, for sure, and which I un­re­served­ly re­gret.” He al­so de­nied mak­ing any of the al­leged re­marks to Halioua at the SENS donor din­ner, say­ing fol­low­ing cor­re­spon­dences be­tween him and the woman con­tin­ued for years with­out is­sue.

No one who has met Ce­line would be­lieve that she would ever lose con­trol of how much she drinks, and most of her ac­cu­sa­tions con­cern­ing that din­ner ap­pear to be of oth­er peo­ple, not of me. It is in­struc­tive that the very next day she wrote to me with­out the faintest hint of am­biva­lence, ask­ing for ad­di­tion­al feed­back on her pre­sen­ta­tion, and that every one of our ex­changes, of which the most re­cent was less than a year ago, has been of sim­i­lar­ly un­tar­nished char­ac­ter.

Though the al­le­ga­tions were pub­li­cized for the first time Tues­day, both Halioua and Dem­ing not­ed that SENS launched an in­ves­ti­ga­tion in­to the mat­ter ear­li­er this year on­ly af­ter re­peat­ed com­plaints against de Grey. They claimed in their posts that oth­er anony­mous in­di­vid­u­als had brought forth tes­ti­monies of phys­i­cal sex­u­al abuse to the SENS board against de Grey ear­li­er in 2021, but didn’t act up­on them.

In its emailed state­ment to End­points, SENS con­firmed it hired an in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tor to probe the in­ci­dents when it first learned of them in late June. Ac­cord­ing to SENS’ lat­est tax re­turns, the CSO was mak­ing just un­der $80,000 in 2018.

We are aware of the al­le­ga­tions against the Foun­da­tion’s Chief Sci­ence Of­fi­cer raised by two mem­bers of our sci­en­tif­ic com­mu­ni­ty, and, when we first learned of the al­le­ga­tions in late June, we worked quick­ly to re­tain an in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tor to in­ves­ti­gate these con­cerns. We quick­ly placed the em­ploy­ee in ques­tion on ad­min­is­tra­tive leave pend­ing the out­come of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion. No oth­er al­le­ga­tions were brought to SRF man­age­ment.

We re­spect the in­tegri­ty of this in­ves­tiga­tive process, and it would not be ap­pro­pri­ate to spec­u­late on the out­comes while the process re­mains on­go­ing. We can promise that we will take se­ri­ous­ly the find­ings and, if ap­pro­pri­ate, take de­ci­sive ac­tion.

Since SENS be­gan its in­quiry, the or­ga­ni­za­tion raised about $25 mil­lion aid­ed by de Grey’s fundrais­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties with­out dis­clos­ing the probe, Halioua and Dem­ing wrote.

Re­ac­tions to the news poured in overnight on so­cial me­dia, with some on Twit­ter say­ing any­one who knows de Grey “knows this is true.” Oth­ers, such as in­dus­try fig­ure and In­sil­i­co CEO Alex Zha­voronkov, jumped to his de­fense and laud­ed him for his role in sup­port of women on Face­book, adding “in to­day’s tran­si­tionary pe­ri­od of fe­male em­pow­er­ment in acad­e­mia, we need to sup­port fe­males even when they are wrong.”

Zha­voronkov clar­i­fied his stance to End­points in an ear­ly Thurs­day email, writ­ing he thinks that “the email Aubrey wrote to Lau­ra 9 years ago was high­ly in­ap­pro­pri­ate. And he needs to apol­o­gize. As for Ce­line — there needs to be an in­ves­ti­ga­tion. And even if it does not prove that Aubrey is guilty, it is great that she came for­ward with this is­sue and we should en­sure that there are poli­cies in place to pro­tect them.”

Zha­voronkov added he thought the sto­ry was a “big sur­prise” be­cause he knew Halioua and Dem­ing were both close with de Grey. He wrote that, un­til the in­ves­ti­ga­tion is over, moral sup­port should be pro­vid­ed to “all par­ties.”

Halioua and Dem­ing are both well-known fig­ures in the an­ti-ag­ing world. Halioua found­ed and serves as CEO of Loy­al, a biotech de­vel­op­ing drugs to ex­tend the lifes­pan of dogs, while Dem­ing is a ven­ture cap­i­tal­ist who runs the Longevi­ty Fund. Halioua had pre­vi­ous­ly served as Dem­ing’s chief of staff.

De Grey co-found­ed SENS — which stands for “strate­gies for en­gi­neered neg­li­gi­ble senes­cence” — in March 2009 with the no­tion that one can slow or con­trol the ag­ing process by ad­dress­ing key dis­eases and re­pair­ing the dam­age that builds up in our bod­ies over time. The foun­da­tion’s re­cent fundrais­er was aimed at boost­ing re­search ca­pa­bil­i­ties, and those who do­nat­ed re­ceived a cryp­tocur­ren­cy called PulseChain in re­turn.

De Grey gave an in­ter­view as CSO with the Dai­ly Ex­press, a UK tabloid, about the raise in Ju­ly, even though, ac­cord­ing to SENS’ state­ment, he was put on leave the month pri­or.

The Uni­ver­si­ty of Cam­bridge grad­u­ate isn’t just out to con­trol ag­ing. At de Grey’s oth­er start­up, Vien­to, he’s work­ing on tech­nol­o­gy he thinks could en­able “im­me­di­ate, tar­get­ed ma­nip­u­la­tion of weath­er pat­terns” through the use of su­per­com­put­ers and in­fra­struc­ture like wind tur­bines.

For a short two years, de Grey was VP of new tech­nol­o­gy and dis­cov­ery at Alame­da, CA-based AgeX Ther­a­peu­tics, which was found­ed in 2017 to un­rav­el the “se­crets of hu­man ag­ing.”

The ac­cu­sa­tions against de Grey come months af­ter Eli Lil­ly oust­ed CFO Josh Smi­ley for send­ing “con­sen­su­al but in­ap­pro­pri­ate” mes­sages to em­ploy­ees. The ex­ec was forced to for­feit $24 mil­lion in com­pen­sa­tion as he walked out the door.

Back in March, Mon­cef Slaoui, for­mer head of Pres­i­dent Trump’s Op­er­a­tion Warp Speed, was boot­ed from his roles at GSK’s Gal­vani, Vax­cyte, and Centes­sa af­ter a probe sub­stan­ti­at­ed sex­u­al ha­rass­ment al­le­ga­tions against him. GSK says he was ac­cused of sex­u­al ha­rass­ment and in­ap­pro­pri­ate con­duct to­ward one of its em­ploy­ees sev­er­al years ago.

This ar­ti­cle has been up­dat­ed to in­clude com­ment from Ce­line Halioua and Lau­ra Dem­ing in an in­ter­view on the af­ter­noon of Aug. 11, as well as ad­di­tion­al com­ment from Alex Zha­voronkov. 

Cor­rec­tion: A pre­vi­ous ver­sion of this ar­ti­cle in­cor­rect­ly stat­ed that Halioua ac­cused an un­named SENS donor of ha­rass­ing her so se­vere­ly she dropped out of her PhD pro­gram. She had ac­cused a SENS ex­ec­u­tive. 

Biotech and Big Phar­ma: A blue­print for a suc­cess­ful part­ner­ship

Strategic partnerships have long been an important contributor to how drugs are discovered and developed. For decades, big pharma companies have been forming alliances with biotech innovators to increase R&D productivity, expand geographical reach and better manage late-stage commercialization costs.

Noël Brown, Managing Director and Head of Biotechnology Investment Banking, and Greg Wiederrecht, Ph.D., Managing Director in the Global Healthcare Investment Banking Group at RBC Capital Markets, are no strangers to the importance of these tie-ups. Noël has over 20 years of investment banking experience in the industry. Before moving to the banking world in 2015, Greg was the Vice President and Head of External Scientific Affairs (ESA) at Merck, where he was responsible for the scientific assessment of strategic partnership opportunities worldwide.

Credit: Shutterstock

How Chi­na turned the ta­bles on bio­phar­ma's glob­al deal­mak­ing

Fenlai Tan still gets chills thinking about the darkest day of his life.

Three out of eight lung cancer patients who received a tyrosine kinase inhibitor developed by his company, Betta Pharma, died in the span of a month. Tan, the chief medical officer, was summoned to Peking Union Medical College Hospital, where the head of the clinical trial department told him that the trial investigators would be conducting an autopsy to see if the patients had died of the disease — they were all very sick by the time they enrolled — or of interstitial lung disease, a deadly side effect tied to the TKI class that’s been reported in Japan.

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The Swiss pharma announced Monday that its IL-1 inhibitor canakinumab did not significantly extend the lives or slow the disease progression of patients with previously untreated locally advanced or metastatic non-small cell lung cancer when compared to standard of-care alone.

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Peter Nell, Mammoth Biosciences CBO

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When a company gets its start in gene editing pioneer Jennifer Doudna’s lab, it’s bound to make headlines. But three years in, the fanfare still hasn’t died down for Mammoth Biosciences. Now, the Brisbane, CA-based company is cheering on its first major R&D pact.

Mammoth unveiled a nearly $700 million deal with Vertex on Tuesday morning, good for the development of in vivo gene therapies for two mystery diseases. The stars of the show are Mammoth’s ultra-small CRISPR systems, including two Cas enzymes licensed from Doudna’s lab over the past couple years, Cas14 and Casɸ.

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An­gion's or­gan dam­age drug strikes out again, this time in high-risk kid­ney trans­plant pa­tients

After flopping a test in Covid-19 earlier this year, Angion’s lead organ damage drug has now hit the skids again in kidney transplant patients.

Angion and partner Vifor Pharma’s ANG-3777 failed to beat out placebo in terms of improving eGFR, a measure of kidney function, in patients who had received a deceased donor kidney transplant and were at high risk of developing what is known as delayed graft function, according to Phase III results released Tuesday.

(Photo courtesy Pfizer)

FDA's vac­cine ad­comm votes al­most unan­i­mous­ly in fa­vor of Pfiz­er's Covid-19 vac­cine for younger chil­dren

The FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee on Tuesday voted 17-0, with one panelist abstaining, that the benefits of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine outweigh the risks for children between the ages of five and 12.

The vote will likely trigger a process that could allow the shots to begin rolling out as early as next week.

The vaccine, which is one-third of the adult Pfizer dose, proved to be about 90% effective in a placebo-controlled trial in which about 1,500 kids in this age range received the vaccine, and only about 12% of those receiving the vaccine had any adverse event. All serious adverse events in the trial were unrelated to the vaccine.

Stéphane Bancel, Moderna CEO (Steven Ferdman/Getty Images)

Mod­er­na chips in fur­ther on African vac­cine sup­ply — but ad­vo­cates are call­ing for even more

In a sign of its growing commitment to the continent, Moderna will supply up to 110 million doses of its Covid-19 vaccine to the African Union, the company announced Tuesday. And CEO Stéphane Bancel said it’s just the first step.

“We believe our vaccine can play an important role in addressing the needs of low-income countries given its combination of high Phase 3 efficacy against COVID-19, strong durability in the real-world evidence, and superior storage and handling conditions. We recognize that access to COVID-19 vaccines continues to be a challenge in many parts of the world and we remain committed to helping to protect as many people as possible around the globe,” Bancel said in a statement.

An image of Alzheimer's brain tissue. The red show gingipains, a protein from P. gingivalis, intermixing with neurons (yellow) and glial cells (green)

An Alzheimer's dark­horse fails its first big tri­al, but of­fers hope for a long-over­looked hy­poth­e­sis

Three years ago, Cortexyme emerged out of obscurity with some big-name backers and an unorthodox approach to treating Alzheimer’s.

They moved their drug into a pivotal study the next year, offering one of the first major tests for a hypothesis that has fluttered on the outskirts of Alzheimer’s research for decades: that, in many cases, the disease is driven by infectious agents — the havoc they wreak in the brain and the inflammation the body uses to try to fend them off. And that quashing the infection could slow patients’ cognitive decline.

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As pres­sure to share tech­nol­o­gy mounts, BioN­Tech se­lects Rwan­da for lat­est vac­cine site

BioNTech’s first mRNA-based vaccine site in Africa will call Rwanda home, and construction is set to start in mid-2022, the company announced Tuesday at a public health forum.

The German company signed a memorandum of understanding, after a meeting between Rwanda’s Minister of Health, Daniel Ngamije, Senegal’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Aïssata Tall Sall, and senior BioNTech officials. Construction plans have been finalized, and assets have been ordered. The agreement will help bring end-to-end manufacturing to Africa, and as many as several hundred million doses of vaccines per year, though initial production will be more modest.