Health, Wellness & Biotech Startups Venture

Live Long(er) And Prosper: A Look At Top VC Investments In Radical Life Extension

If the techno-futurists have their way (and they often do), in the future we will be living a lot longer.

By most measures, we already are. Between 1920 and 2020, the average human life span roughly doubled. We’ve eradicated many deadly diseases, cured formerly untreatable maladies, and, more recently, mainstreamed breakthroughs from immunotherapy to robot-assisted surgery.

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Longevity-focused founders and investors believe we have much further to go. With cutting-edge therapies for killer diseases, age-reversing drugs and a bounty of early diagnostic tools, we could easily add a couple decades to our life expectancy, the thinking goes.

Maybe longer. The Methuselah Foundation, a longevity-focused nonprofit, describes its mission as:   “Making 90 the new 50 by 2030.”

But even if such a vision is plausible, it won’t come cheap. In the venture-backed startup sphere alone, longevity-focused companies, broadly defined, have raised billions. As more investment pours into startups with lifespan-increasing goals, we turned to the Crunchbase database to put together some targeted lists of companies and categories gaining traction.

To narrow things down, we’re looking at a few areas: regenerative medicine, gene therapy and age-reversing therapeutics, and adding in a few intriguing companies that were hard to fit into any particular bucket.

To start off, we put together a list of 30 noteworthy companies in the longevity space, shown below:

This is not an exhaustive list. If contributing to a longer average lifespan was the only criteria for inclusion, it would probably be impossibly long. Everything from auto safety tech to organic leafy greens to fitness classes could also be vying for inclusion, along with a host of moonshot biotech startups.

So, rather than an exhaustive accounting of startups with technologies and therapies that could extend lives, we’ve cherry-picked a few categories and sample investments in each.

Below we break things down by category:

Organ replacement and regenerative medicine

If you want to live longer, it helps to have a body and vital organs that are healthy and functioning. To enable this, a host of startups and growth-stage companies are working on regenerative medicine and organ replacement technologies that, if successful, could add years to the typical lifespan.

Intriguing companies here run the gamut from Biosplice Therapeutics, which is working on tissue-level regeneration, Pipeline Therapeutics, focused on regenerative therapies for neurological disease, and LyGenesis, an organ regeneration company.

Gene therapy, precision medicine and genome analysis 

Startups focused on gene therapy, precision medicine and applications of genome analysis are also working on a host of therapies that could extend lives and, in some cases, even reverse the ravages of age. We put together a list of a few below:

It’s all cool stuff. But to narrow down to a few examples, San Diego-based Human Longevity has raised $330 million for genomics-based health assessments aimed at developing personalized diagnoses and recommendations for a long and healthy life.

Nuritas, a Dublin- and Boston-based company focused on peptides for drug discovery, has an ingredient in its pipeline called PeptiYouth, a novel peptide discovered for its ability to slow down cellular aging.

And in Silicon Valley, is developing mRNA medicines that it says could “turn back time on age-related diseases” by inducing the body to heal itself.

Longevity in a pill, app or device 

While most of the startup efforts underway are a long way from commercialization, some founders are focusing on more near-term areas, including already-available drugs with anti-aging properties, and apps to monitor for age-related diseases. Their efforts include offerings available either right now or potentially in the near future.

We put together a few of these in the list below:

Among the more heavily funded is Elysium Health, which has raised over $70 million to further its mission of turning scientific advancements into consumer products. Its current offerings include a supplement aimed at promoting a healthy cellular aging process.

A newer entrant is AgelessRX, which markets itself as an online anti-aging platform offering prescriptions for longevity-promoting treatments. On the device side, meanwhile, Owlstone Medical develops a breathalyzer offering a “breath biopsy” for early detection of disease.

Other remarkable stuff

Many longevity-focused startups seem to operate in a category all their own.

One example is Berkeley-based Fauna Bio, which is leveraging the science of hibernation, with an eye toward life-extending therapies. Another is Juvenescence, a biotech formed around the belief that we are at “a new moment in medical history where we are able to modify aging.”

And then there’s Calico, the Google-sponsored R&D startup focused on the biology that controls aging and lifespan, which is working on a range of investigative efforts too broad to summarize here.

In conclusion: This is hard

So, while the startups we’ve listed above are a very disparate bunch, they do have one thing in common: What they are attempting is very hard. Hard to create. Difficult to understand. Challenging to prove effective. And assuredly rather complicated to scale.

But, if we do manage to add a significant chunk to our collective expected lifespans, there’s a very good chance it will be in large part due to the work already underway.

Illustration: Dom Guzman

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