The top 11 longevity companies leading the quest for life extension
By Joseph Mapue
The human quest to remain young and live forever has long left the realm of fantasy to shake up the world of finance with a series of life-affirming jolts. Partly stoked by myths such as the fountain of youth and vampiric regeneration, ambitious startups from Silicon Valley, biotech, and pharma have blazed divergent roadmaps that might soon lead us to prolonged youth, extended lifespans, and immortality.
Collectively, these startups form the nascent anti-aging and longevity industry, which is set to reach a market value of US$64 billion by 2026 after a brisk six-year expansion at a compound annual rate of 6.1%, accordingto Research & Markets.
With a host of billionaires and institutional investors already bankrolling the industry, a number of standout players have launched pioneering research into how we just might halt the aging process and perhaps even deactivate death itself. The methodologies revealed so far are as varied and clever as the ambitious minds and financiers behind them. Think Jeff Bezos and Peter Thiel. Think Larry Ellison and Larry Page. Think Alphabet and Nobel laureates.
Big bucks and big brains are definitely making this party too big a deal to ignore. With names such as the Methuselah Foundation, Juvenescence, and BioSplice Therapeutics, leading partygoers have chosen to hack different aging mechanisms, leading to a number of potential solutions: cellular reprogramming, mind uploading, body part replacement/cyborg technology, genetic editing/gene therapy, cryonics, anti-aging drugs/regenerative medicine, cloning, and young-blood injection.
Read on for an overview of some the most noteworthy and promising companies in the sector. There are many industry players that are absent in what is by necessity a shortlist in this very busy space.
At least two famous billionaires (both in their middle age) have placed their bets on Altos Labs to extend the good times for a little longer. Formed by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and Russian-Israeli entrepreneur Yuri Milner in September 2021, Altos Labs seeks to tap cellular reprogramming technology to develop life-extending therapies for humans.
The richest guy on the planet, Jeff Bezos also owns Blue Origin which successfully flew him to suborbital space in July 2021. Co-founder Yuri Milner is a theoretical physicist and arguably the most influential venture capitalist in Russia. Milner funded and established the Breakthrough Prize (a set of international awards for the sciences that grants the world’s largest prize money — at US$3million — to annual winners).
Perhaps more important than the billionaires funding Altos Labs (Series A reportedly reeled in around US$270 M), the domain experts leading the company’s pioneering research also have eye-popping credentials. Juan Carlos Izpisúa Belmonte is a top practitioner and authority in regenerative medicine. Steve Horvath is a multi-awarded geneticist and biostatistician who developed a highly accurate molecular biomarker for aging. Shinya Yamanaka won the Nobel Prize for successfully pulling off cellular reprogramming in mammalian cells. The past president of the International Society for Stem Cell Research, Yamanaka also won the Breakthrough Prize in 2013.
A life sciences company geared towards the consumer health market, Juvenescence develops prescription drugs and consumer products for age management, disease prevention, and enhanced metabolic efficiency. A pioneer in cellular and tissue regeneration, the company also uses AI, machine learning, and data to accelerate the development and drive the effectiveness of new drugs.
With 5 funding rounds already under its belt, Juvenescence has raised around US$219.2 M so far and has been valued at US$500 M according to the Financial Times. Key investors include Longevity Vision Fund, Grok Ventures, and IPGL.
Formed in 2016, Juvenescence’s executive team includes Dr.Greg Bailey (CEO), Dr. Declan Doogan (Chief Medical Officer), and Burnbrae Group founder Jim Mellon (Chairman). Dr. Bailey is a physician and biotech entrepreneur who founded and funded numerous healthcare companies. Dr. Doogan served as global head for drug development at Pfizer and also led R&D at Amarin Corp. A serial investor with multi-industry interests, Jim Mellon serves as Executive Chairman of Manx Financial Group. His book, Juvensescence was instrumental in the formation of the startup that bears its name.
Formed in 2014 and domiciled in Hong Kong, Insilico Medicine develops AI technologies to accelerate drug discovery, development, and testing. As its main business model, the firm provides solutions to biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies aimed at improving efficiencies in their development of therapeutics and medicines — from discovery to clinical trial analysis.
Currently, Insilico’s in-house research focuses on the treatment of cancer, fibrosis, Alzheimer’s Disease, and aging. In early 2021, Insilico successfully demonstrated the transformative benefit of its AI solutions by discovering, designing, and testing a new drug for pulmonary fibrosis within just 18 months for less than US$3 million. A few months after, the company replicated its drug development success for kidney fibrosis.
Given its proven track record, the firm has consistently gained industry accolades for innovation, most notably from tech giant NVIDIA which named Insilico among the top 5 AI companies in 2017.
Investors have also taken notice. To date, Insilico has raised a total of 306.3 M after a Series C funding round that reeled in US$255 M in June 2021. Said investment round was led by Warburg Pincus with the participation of Qiming Venture Partners, Pavillion Capital, Sinovation Ventures, and CPE, among others.
Listed in the NYSE, AgeX Therapeutics develops innovative medicines and advanced therapeutics that seek to address human aging. Utilizing tissue regeneration technologies, small molecule drug delivery systems, and stem cell research, the firm aims to crack the code of cellular immortality to revitalize health and reverse the effects of degenerative diseases and aging in humans.
The firm was founded in 2017 by Michael D West, a prominent biogerontologist and pioneer in stem cell research, cellular aging, cloning, and telomerase. Both Juvenescence Chairman Jim Mellon and CEO Dr. Greg Bailey have backed AgeX in its early stage.
After five rounds of funding, AgeX has raised around US$63.8.
Human Longevity Inc.
Operating under the wellness service brand Health Nucleus, Human Longevity Inc. was founded in 2013 by author-entrepreneur Peter Diamandis and genomics pioneer Craig Venter. The company aims to build the planet’s most comprehensive database on human phenotypes and genotypes then use advanced AI, machine learning, and genome sequence analysis to develop new methodologies and therapeutics to treat age-related diseases, reverse the aging process, and empower people to have full, better lives.
So far, Human Longevity raised a total of US$330 M after a Series C funding round in 2019 that included Emerging Technology Partners and Celgene among its latest investors. The company managed to command a post-money valuation of $1B to US$10 B in the same year, despite previously having suffered numerous setbacks, including the departure of and subsequent lawsuit against founder Craig Venter that was later dismissed.
Serving as the company’s vice chair, Peter Diamandis co-founded the X Prize Foundation as well as Singularity University, among other notable achievements.
PayPal’s Peter Thiel and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos are two of the big names that supported Unity Biotechnology even before its IPO in May 2018. Now listed in the Nasdaq exchange, the company was formed in 2009 to develop advanced therapeutics and transformative medicines that address age-related diseases, focusing on senescent cells.
Led by Dr. Anirvan Ghosh as CEO, the company’s founders include Dr. Judith Campisi and Dr. Nathaniel David. Dr. Campisi is a prominent biogerontologist known for her research in cellular senescence. Serving as President, Dr. David is a scientist entrepreneur who acquired a Ph.D. in Molecular and Cellular Biology at UC Berkeley. Prior to joining Unity, Dr. Ghosh served as an SVP at Biogen, leading the company’s research and early development group. He also served as global head of neuroscience discovery and biomarkers at Swiss healthcare giant Roche.
Prior to its IPO, Unity has raised a total of US$290.6 M from seven funding rounds. Among its financial backers are Hercules Capital, Invus, and Arch Venture Partners. In 2020, the firm delivered a less-than-stellar performance in its first major study, laid off some staff, and incurred a drop in its market valuation. In addition to senescence, the company currently focuses on ophthalmology and neurology.
Seeming to adopt the playbook of Count Dracula and the vampires of Twilight Saga, Elevian develops medicines that restore youthful regenerative capacity in humans, with the potential to halt and treat a range of diseases related to aging. The company is known for conducting research that demonstrates tissue and organic regeneration capabilities acquired by older animals after being transfused with the blood of young animals.
These experiments — largely conducted by Elevian’s scientific founders working at the Harvard Department of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology — enabled the company to identify its lead drug candidate: recombinant human GDF11. In preclinical models, GDF11 already shows efficacy in regenerating heart, brain, muscle, and other tissues damaged by age-related diseases such as stroke and diabetes. The biotech startup has exclusive global rights to the patent portfolio for GDF11 held by Harvard University.
In September 2021, Elevian raised US$40 M from investors such as Leslie Ventures, Bold Capital Partners, and Prime Movers Lab. Said fund has been earmarked to finance phase 1 trials in stroke recovery. Since its founding in July 2017, the company has raised a total of US$64.3 M from around a dozen investors.
Boston-based Life Biosciences develops new medicines and advanced therapies that prevent, treat, or reverse multiple diseases related to aging. To achieve this, the company probes the very mechanisms of aging and has exclusive licenses with top research and academic institutions for at least three of eight well-known factors that underly the process of senescence. The ultimate goal is to therapeutically target aging itself and prolong the human lifespan.
Formed in 2017, Life Biosciences has raised a total of US$124 M from two funding rounds, with LeFrak, a top real estate company in New York, as the key investor. In September 2021, the company received research funding from the Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation (ADDF).
Key people behind the startup include Tristan Edwards (co-founder and Chief Investments Officer), top genomics researcher Dr. David Sinclair (Director), and veteran pharma executive Jerry McLaughlin (CEO).
Calico Life Sciences LLC
As the health research and longevity science subsidiary of Alphabet, Calico enjoys the enormous social and financial clout of the 5th most valuable (just around US$1.54 trillion) company on the planet.
Calico was formed in 2013 by American venture capitalist and entrepreneur Bill Maris. At the onset, Google’s Larry Page was on board which allowed Calico to hire some of the brightest minds in pharma and biotech. Apple Chairman Arthur D. Levinson serves as CEO. Levinson formerly served as CEO and chairman of Genentech, a pioneering biotech research company now owned by healthcare giant Roche. VP of Aging Research Dr. Cynthia Kenyon won the prestigious Dickson Prize in 2021. Said prize has a strong correlation with two other preeminent accolades: the Nobel Prize and the Lasker Award.
So far though, Calico has yet to make a breakthrough announcement. In July 2021, the company extended its partnership with AbbVie to develop novel therapeutics that combat senescence and prolong human lifespan.
BioSplice Therapeutics, Inc.
Formerly known as Samumed, BioSplice Therapeutics focuses on developing the science and the techniques for tissue-level regeneration to treat cancer, osteoarthritis, and other aging-related diseases. As its new name suggests, the company’s stated mission is to restore human health via novel therapies that use alternative splicing.
BioSplice was founded in 2008 by Turkish American billionaire Osman Kibar. Kibar holds a doctorate in biophotonics and invented a cancer diagnosis system that was eventually acquired (as the emergent company Genoptix) for US$476 million by Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis in 2011.
So far, the company has raised US$778 million from five funding rounds and 11 investors that include Sands Capital, Verition Fund Management, Ali Sabancı, and Ergun Öze.
Toronto-based BlueRock Therapeutics develops authentic cellular medicines and engineered stem cell therapies to cure a range of diseases, regenerate damaged tissues, and elevate the potential of human health.
Formed in 2016, the clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company raised a total of $225M in its Series A funding round held in the same year. The two investors were Versant Ventures and Bayer Pharmaceuticals, with the latter acquiring BlueRock in August 2019. The acquisition (which had an enterprise value of US$1 billion in upfront and milestone payments) bolsters the company’s initiatives in melding genetic engineering and therapeutics for applications in neurology, immunology, ophthalmology, and cardiology.
In July 2021, BlueRock announced that the U.S. FDA granted Fast Track designation for DA01 for advanced Parkinson’s disease. DA01 is the company’s “pluripotent stem cell-derived dopaminergic neuron therapy” being evaluated in a Phase 1 study.