It’s been an obsession of mankind ever since our earliest days. From Ponce de Leon’s quest for the fountain of youth to the billons of dollars spent annually on herbs, pharmaceuticals and cosmetics, people across the world have been waging a battle against Father Time and the effects of growing older.
Now, a biotech company out of Northern California has made scientific breakthroughs that, while not reversing the aging process, have shown promise in preventing the most common diseases associated with it. Unity Biotechnology, founded in San Francisco in 2009, designs therapeutics that prevent, halt, and reverse various diseases related to aging by focusing on clearing senescent cells.
According to the company, “Cellular senescence is a biological ‘emergency brake’ cells use to stop dividing. It’s an important anti-tumor mechanism, because it prevents cells from multiplying out of control. But after this “brake” has been pulled, senescent cells remain in the body, accumulating with age. And unlike normal cells, these cells secrete inflammatory molecules that harm neighboring cells and tissues. Our senolytic medicines target vulnerabilities unique to senescent cells, allowing us to eliminate them from the human body while leaving normal cells unaffected.”
Unity Biology was created through the combined scientific efforts of two key founders, Drs. Jan van Deursen and Judith “Judy” Campisi. Dr. van Deursen is a Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and Pediatrics at The Mayo Clinic while Dr. Campisi is a Professor at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging and a Professor at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.
“After a very long journey it’s extremely gratifying and exciting to have Unity formally launch,” says Dr. Campisi, “Unity has enormous potential to change the way we approach the diseases of aging. Unity’s concept is to treat these maladies as conditions that are preventable or even curable, as opposed to treating symptoms of diseases where the end-states are inevitable and debilitating. As a basic research scientist it is extraordinarily rewarding to see our discoveries move toward clinical trials.”
Their efforts received a significant stamp of approval in late October in the form of a $116 million Series B financing announcement from long-time life science investors ARCH Venture Partners, Baillie Gifford, Fidelity Management and Research Company, Partner Fund Management, and Venrock. Proceeds from this financing will be used to expand ongoing research programs in cellular senescence and advance the first preclinical programs into human trials.
The bourgeoning biotech firm has cornered the scientific market on this technology with scientific papers published in premiere scientific journals such as Nature and Nature Medicine.
For Dr. van Deursen, the most exciting step in the process is about to begin soon – they’ve moved more than 90 therapeutic candidates into human clinical trials.
“This has been a long journey, and we’re at the point now where we can start making medicines to achieve in humans what we’ve achieved in mice,” says Dr. van Deursen. “I can’t wait to see what happens as we move into the clinic.”
Unity Technology CEO Nathanial David, Ph.D is optimistic about what the company’s findings can mean for the future of medicine.
“Imagine drugs that could prevent, maybe even cure, arthritis or heart disease or loss of eyesight. It’s an incredible aspiration,” he said in an interview with BusinessWire. “If we can translate this biology into medicines, our children might grow up in significantly better health as they age. There will be many obstacles to overcome, but our team is committed and inspired to achieve our mission.”