The quest to slow down ageing — and have healthier and longer lives — is ongoing. And it’s not just about living to 120.
Some scientific research suggests that in years to come, we will have therapeutics that will help us foresee age-related diseases like diabetes and cancer as well as neurodegenerative diseases — and prevent them. Other scientific breakthroughs on animals have shown that it may also be possible to add years to our fertility window, stop our hair from turning grey and perhaps even vaccinate ourselves against ageing.
However, until the answer to that billion-dollar question is found, there is a lot we can do to trick the ageing process, say researchers, startups and investors.
In 2021, about $1.9bn globally was invested in the longevity sector. That number is set to increase — both because various clinical trials are getting results and because there’s an increased interest among investors in the space.
As with many healthtech trends, longevity is yet to get the same recognition in Europe as it has in the US. Still, with the global longevity market projected to reach $44bn by 2030, Europe — and the UK and Switzerland in particular — is waking up.
So, apart from the more well-known startups like TreeFrog Therapeutics and Rejuveron, which are the other longevity startups to watch? And what problems are they solving?
Cell and gene therapies
Telomere Therapeutics (Spain)
Founded: 2020, by Maria Blasco and Fàtima Bosch (University of Barcelona spinoff)
One of the key reasons we age is the protective caps at the end of our chromosomes, called telomeres, shortening over time. When they fully disintegrate, it causes our DNA to become damaged. Telomere Therapeutics is developing a telomerase gene therapy that counteracts telomere shortening and can treat age-related diseases.
Funding: Undisclosed amount by Spanish Invivo Ventures
Founded: 2018 by Alex Schueller, James McCully, Pedro del Nido and Sitaram Emani
Age-related deterioration of the mitochondria in our cells is associated with an array of conditions, such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Researchers have recently discovered that this process can be reversed with cellular energisers — such as Lipo Glutathione, Lipo CoQ10, Lipo Apigenin and Lipo Resveratrol — that help restore and preserve mitochondrial function. Cellvie is working on a way of transplanting mitochondria directly into compromised cells.
Funding: $5m in a seed round in 2021 from German investor KIZOO Technology Capital.
Samsara Therapeutics (UK/US)
Founded: 2018 by Guido Kroemer, James Peyer, and Sebastian Brunemeier within Apollo Ventures’ company builder
Autophagy is a natural process in which the body’s cells clean out any damaged or unnecessary components. However, more and more evidence suggests that autophagic dysfunction is a cause of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. By restoring autophagy in such diseased cells Samsara says it can remove the misfolded protein. However, it’s still in the pre-clinical phase.
Funding: $10m Series A in 2021 by global longevity VC Apollo Health Ventures, Swiss Korify Capital and US-based Longevitytech Fund
Founded: 2020 by Lorna Harries, Ben Lee and Kirsty Semple (spinout from University of Exeter)
As we age, more and more of our cells stop dividing and become senescent, or “zombie” cells. These cells don’t die but are major contributors to age-related illnesses such as cancer, dementia and cardiovascular disease. Senisca’s treatment rejuvenates these cells. The spinout is developing a treatment through senotherapeutic interventions that target the senescent cells. By restoring the splicing factor — a protein — to how it is in younger cells, Senisca hopes to turn back the ageing clock in old cells.
Funding: £2m in seed funding by US-based APEX ventures and the local UK investor VC QantX in June 2022
Founded: 2017 by Jens Gruber and Herbert Stadler
Senescence and other biological processes such as cell development, growth and repair are helped by the main actors of intercellular communications — exosomes. The signals from exosomes can either stimulate or suppress immune responses. Curexsys is focused on the work to develop and manufacture exosomes in clinical quality for regenerative medicine and anti-ageing therapies.
Funding: €8.2m Series A in 2020 by the German pharmaceutical Sartorius
Age Labs (Norway)
Founded: 2017 by Espen Riskedal and Karl Trygve Kalleberg
Testing your blood for biomarkers (such as cholesterol level and haemoglobin) has become increasingly popular and is also one way to understand your individual longevity. So what are the biomarkers to look out for if you are destined for a long healthy life? Age Labs is a Norwegian molecular diagnostics company that discovers, develops and commercialises diagnostic tests for the early detection of age-related diseases. It also has a biological age predictor.
Funding: In total $2m, including a $1m pre-seed round in 2020 by Norwegian Skyfall Ventures and Aleap.
Rejuvenate Biomed (Belgium)
Founded: 2017 by Ann Beliën
When we reach our 50s our muscles start losing their functions and mass. This is called chronic sarcopenia and it contributes to an increased risk of disability, falls and fractures. Rejuvenate has a screening platform that investigates dysregulated pathways in ageing. Dysregulated pathways can occur due to mutations that cause genes and proteins to be expressed abnormally, leading to diseases. Rejuvenate’s first drug candidate is RJx-01, to be used in acute and chronic sarcopenia — types of musculoskeletal diseases. According to the company it also has been shown to have beneficial effects in the prevention and treatment of other age-related diseases.
Funding: Rejuvenate Biomed raised its €15.7m Series B in 2021 from Zürich-based Rejuveron Life Sciences (now majority owner) and Luxembourg-based Vesalius Biocapital.
Founded: 2021 by Pascal Rode, Sophie Chabloz, Teresa Budetta
The interest in the nine hallmarks of ageing is no longer limited to the corridors of science labs, and intermediate fasting, exercise and healthy living are not enough for some people. As a result, the longevity supplement industry is growing. Products like NMN — nicotinamide mononucleotide is a precursor to NAD+, the essential coenzyme and key metabolite found in every cell of the human body — are increasingly popular. Supplement startup Avea believes it can optimise long-term health as well as slow and even reverse some of the signs of ageing with its products.
Funding: €2.4m seed round led by Swiss investor and startup builder Maximon
Founded: 2007 by Pierre Landolt and Patrick Aebischer
Cellvie is working on transplanting mitochondria — but what if you could decrease the deterioration of the mitochondria in our cells by taking a supplement? After a decade of research and clinical trials, based on the ingredients of pomegranate juice, supplement startup Amazentis has developed its first product with a pure form of Urolithin A. The substance has been proven to help counter age-associated cellular decline and improve muscular strength.
Funding: Raised $8.9m Series C in 2018 by the Swiss corporation Nestlé Health Science
Founded: 2019 by Peter Ward and Michael Geer
Humanity wants to bring longevity to the masses by helping people control what they eat and when, their exercise regime and their sleeping habits. It’s developed an app that calculates customers’ rate of ageing and biological age by drawing on data from your smartphone and wearable devices to track biomarkers such as heart rate, step rate, sleep, activity and eating habits. It’s grown to 130k users in the last 12 months.
Funding: $5m over a split seed round in 2020 and 2021 by UK- based 7percent Ventures, Estonian investor Taavet Hinrikus, US-based One Way Ventures and others
Nuritas (Ireland/ US)
Founded: 2014 by Nora Khaldi
Peptides are strings of amino acids, which are the building blocks of proteins. Collagen peptides are commonly used in skin products to rejuvenate skin, but can peptides also prolong a healthy life? Recent research indicates that some types of peptides could be beneficial in slowing down the ageing process — although, more research is needed. Using AI and peptidomics, Nuritas aims to discover bioactive peptides that can be used to optimise glucose metabolism, regain muscle strength and rejuvenate skin.
Funding: $45m Series B funding round in 2021 by US-based Cleveland Avenue, UK-based Grosvenor’s Wheatsheaf Group, and the European Circular Bioeconomy Fund among others.
Founded: 2021 by Rob Konrad Maciejewski and James Raaff
There are a lot of companies selling longevity supplements, checking your blood markers and biomarkers and even looking at how your DNA may be working for or against you when it comes to certain age-related diseases. But how do you put all that information together into a longevity package that is right for you? Biolytica is doing that by combining health data analytics and personalised longevity programmes. So far it’s focusing on healthcare professionals but it hopes to be able to offer it to everyday customers in the future.
Funding: €10m from Swiss company-builder Maximon
Mimi Billing is Sifted’s Nordic correspondent. She also covers healthtech, and tweets from @MimiBilling
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