Extending lifespan is a growing market.
Although COVID-19 has caused a slowdown in M&A activity, not all companies are struggling to cope with the consequences of the pandemic. As investors look for hefty returns despite the market downturn, counter-cyclical companies with a strong potential for growth are receiving a great deal of cash. Start-ups that tackle age-related diseases are one of the segments that have awakened investor interest as they are considered highly rewarding bets in an uncertain market.
One example is San Francisco-based biopharmaceutical company Nitrome Biosciences, which is developing therapeutics targeting a novel group of enzymes involved in age-related diseases. In April 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, the company closed a funding round worth USD 38m.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also thrown ageing and longevity into public focus and, as a result, investors are watching the space more closely. With the disease affecting elderly individuals significantly more than younger ones, companies are endeavouring to improve elderly population’s underlying health conditions by extending healthy years lived so as to decrease the burden of healthcare costs.
As a way of example, individuals suffering from cardiovascular diseases such as atherosclerosis are at higher risk of suffering adverse outcomes from pandemics such as the coronavirus. Companies developing novel treatments against atherosclerosis, like Syracuse-based Repair Biotechnologies, which is working on an innovative therapy that catabolises cholesterol, may become key in preventing complications from seasonal and global pandemics.
Other longevity companies are focusing on tackling COVID-19 head-on. SIWA Therapeutics, which has developed a monoclonal antibody that targets senescent cells, cancer cells and virally infected cells, might delay human trials for its lead pancreatic cancer indication after tests showed that its antibody could be used as a treatment for the novel coronavirus. The company is likely to pursue a COVID-19 indication very soon.
A growing market for longevity
Longevity companies that combine biotech with a consumer presence are also attracting investors. As demand for health-tracking devices and services grows, start-ups with strong scientific backgrounds are launching consumer products that can help individuals live healthier lives. One of the most interesting examples is perhaps GlycanAge, which provides an estimate of a person’s biological age through a simple blood test. Until recently, the company was selling most of its tests to research institutes for use in clinical trials, but it is now planning to shift to a B2C model. The company is undertaking a fundraise to recruit experts who can help users improve their biological age through lifestyle changes.
Other start-ups are tapping into the consumer space by mixing their expertise in longevity with software such as gaming. Tokyo-based ekei labs is seeking financing to develop a range of longevity products, including bespoke nutraceutical supplements. The app based company operates a subscription-model for its anti-ageing nutraceuticals and combines it with a mobile game that educates its users on longevity. This consists of “in-game and in-life challenges that help to promote new habits on longevity”.
Some longevity companies are trying to lure investors by challenging established cosmetic brands. OneSkin, which was founded by four scientists and has designed a compound that reduces the accumulation of senescent cells in the skin, is looking to launch a product based on that very molecule in October. Its competitive advantage compared to existing solutions, which target the symptoms of ageing, is that OneSkin’s supplement has proven to target the ageing process itself. .
Despite the rapid growth in the longevity sector, some of the treatments for age-related diseases may still be a long way off. Several longevity companies are still young and, while showing promising signs in pre-clinical studies, it could take years before novel therapeutics are fully launched. At that point, COVID-19 could be long gone but the treatments may still be key in protecting ageing populations.
On the other hand, longevity start-ups that are launching consumer products are facing challenges in attracting a broad group of customers. Given the amount of science and research behind those products, the price point is often higher than that of more established brands. As a result, customers may be tempted to stick with existing options.
While COVID-19 has put age-related diseases and treatments under the spotlight, the next few years will be pivotal to determine how much the longevity market can grow.
Companies to follow
Gero, a Singapore-headquartered AI-based platform focusing on developing anti-ageing drugs, will welcome approaches from financial advisors to assist it with USD 10m Series B planned for early 2021, said Founder & CEO Peter Fedichev. It is aiming to target valuation of at least USD 100m with this round, he said. Fedichev further elaborated that with Series B it aims to give increased visibility to its platform to attract big pharma and biotech companies as investors.
OneSkin, a biotech start-up that has built an anti-ageing molecule, is looking to undertake a Series A round worth up to USD 10m in early 2021, CEO Carolina Reis Oliveira said. The San Francisco-based company has designed a compound, called OS-1, which has proven to reduce the accumulation of senescent cells in the skin, she said. In October 2020, the company is set to launch a skin supplement based on OS-1, she added. OneSkin is actively looking to mandate two advisors for the upcoming round, Reis Oliveira said. One advisor would be a longevity expert while the other should have built a strong consumer brand, she added.
ekei labs (11/08/2020)
ekei labs, a Tokyo-based, Hong Kong incorporated start-up, is in talks to raise up to USD 4m in seed equity financing, Chief Executive Officer and founder Bilal Kharoumi said. The company is developing a range of longevity products that can be personalised to an individual, that can gather biodata, test biological age and motivate and educate consumers on longevity, Kharoumi said. Kharoumi and his business partner Mehdi Hamadi established ekei labs in 2019, and each own 50%, he said. An undisclosed Japanese business partner, with many years of professional experience in Silicon Valley, is also assisting with the fundraising process, Kharoumi said.
Ponce de Leon Health (07/08/2020)
Ponce De Leon Health (PDLH), an Ireland-incorporated biotech company focused on reversing epigenetic ageing, is in early stage talks with investors to raise up to USD 10m, Chief Executive Officer and founder Tom Weldon said. For this Series B equity round, approximately USD 5m will be required to finance one-year worth of operations and USD 2m will be required for marketing and to obtain human efficacy data, he said. The company's Rejuvant product has been shown to increase lifespan (the length of life) and healthspan (the length of healthy life) in animal models,
Age Labs (06/08/2020)
Age Labs, a molecular diagnostics company that develops blood tests to detect age-related diseases, is looking to raise financing in 2021, CTO and co-founder Karl Trygve Kalleberg said. The Norwegian company has not determined the size of the round, which will highly depend on the pre-clinical data from studies that are currently underway, he said. However, he said, “EUR 3m is not an unreasonable figure." It is not going to mandate an advisor for the round, Kalleberg said, declining to disclose the size of the stake available to incoming shareholders.
SIWA Therapeutics (15/07/2020)
SIWA Therapeutics, a pre-clinical stage biotechnology company focused on longevity, is aiming to raise up to USD 15m, Chief Administrative Officer Misty Gruber told Mergermarket. The company has developed a first-in-class monoclonal antibody, called SIWA 318H, that targets senescent cells, cancer cells and virally infected cells, CEO Lewis Gruber said. SIWA Therapeutics is looking to mandate an advisor for the Series B round, which will close as soon as possible, Misty Gruber said. It would prefer advisors who have expertise in the biotech sector and contacts with major strategic players, she added.
Sun Genomics (10/07/2020)
Sun Genomics, a custom probiotic subscription service, is interested in attracting strategic investors from the food and pharmaceutical spaces and would engage with potential buyers should they emerge, said founder and CEO Sunny Jain. The San Diego, California-based company announced last month it had completed a USD 8.6m Series A, bringing its total outside funding to USD 11.7m, and it is working to close additional investments as an extension to that round, he added. The Series A was led by venture investor Pangaea Capital and also drew investments from health intelligence company Human Longevity and Danone’s [EPA: BN] venture arm.
Repair Biotechnologies (02/07/2020)
Repair Biotechnologies, a preclinical biotech company developing therapies targeting the causes of age-related diseases, is looking to raise around USD 22m by 2022, CEO Reason told Mergermarket. In the short-term, the Syracuse-based company is looking to undertake a seed round worth USD 2m to complete its preclinical studies in animal models before arranging a pre-IND meeting with the US FDA, he said. This will be for the cholesterol catabolism programme which focuses on treatments for atherosclerosis and hypercholesterolemia.
UK-based GlycanAge, which provides a blood test to determine biological age, is aiming to raise up to EUR 3m by the end of 2020, CEO Nikolina Lauc said. The company is not looking to mandate an advisor for the seed round, she said, adding that a minority shareholding will be available to incoming shareholders. GlycanAge has never raised financing so far and the company’s largest shareholders are Lauc, the company’s CEO, and her father Gordan Lauc who is the company’s Chief Scientific Officer (CSO), she said.
Ridgeline Therapeutics (18/06/2020)
Ridgeline Therapeutics, a preclinical biotechnology company developing an oral drug that treats age-related muscle degeneration, is aiming to raise around USD 5.5m, CEO Stan Watowich said. The Houston, Texas-based company is not going to mandate an advisor for the Series A round, which will close by the end of 2020, he said. The founder is looking to bring in strategic investors or family offices with expertise in biotechnology and longevity, the executive said.
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