Leap of faith? Buzzy anti-aging biotech Unity pitches an $85M IPO based on mouse data

Can an old mouse that looks and acts youthful and virile inspire investors to back an $85 million IPO?

Unity Biotechnology is about to find out.

Bob Nelsen

One of the buzziest of the new breed of biotech, backed by Bob Nelsen at Arch, Unity raised $217 million in venture funding for its preclinical work on ridding bodies of senescent cells. These oldster cells tend to clutter systems in people as they age, and Unity’s theory — only studied in mice — supports the idea that sweeping away the cellular dust could help sustain a longer, healthier life.

Just weeks ago the company said they were ready to start their first human study on osteoarthritis, and their S-1 spells out a pipeline full of plans to try out their ideas in the clinic.

Arch is still the largest investor, with 27.5% of the equity. WuXi PharmaTech comes in second with 8.9%. And Venrock, the Mayo Clinic, Baillie Gifford and Fidelity also have a piece. The company plans to trade as $UBX.

The offering includes a grand mission statement:

We believe that by creating medicines that target fundamental aging mechanisms, we can reduce the economic, personal, and societal burden of aging and enhance quality of life.

Keith Leonard, Unity CEO

The S-1 also underscores, perhaps unintentionally, the extraordinary risks ahead. It outlines some of the drugs that have been touted for their anti-aging potential, noting the problems on each. There’s been much discussion but little hard evidence that drugs like rapamycin, a powerful immunosuppressant, or resveratrol, a component of red wine that inspired a $720 million buyout by GSK that led nowhere, could address aging. And the mechanisms of action for much-discussed drugs like metformin are poorly understood. 

The biotech has burned through more than $87 million of private funds to gather together its preclinical case. Now Unity will test just how much money the public markets is willing to offer preclinical companies that have set out on biotech missions to achieve life-altering goals.

It’s a leap of faith over a broad chasm of risk. 

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Research Scientist - Immunology
Recursion Pharmaceuticals Salt Lake City, UT
Director of Operations
Atlas Venture Cambridge, MA

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