AbbVie and Alphabet's Ambitious Plan to Battle Immortality
Published: Oct 20, 2015
October 19, 2015
By Mark Terry, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff
As Google Inc. restructures into Alphabet and various of its “moonshot” projects spin off as separate companies, analysts and investors — and the public — are wondering exactly what these companies are doing. Since Alphabet’s first separate entity, Life Sciences, has let the world know that it is focusing on diabetes and blood sugar monitoring, attention is turning to Calico.
The Motley Fool took a stab at what Calico might be doing. For the most part, Google has indicated that Calico will work on aging and aging-related diseases, as well as lifespan. On Sept. 3, Calico announced a collaboration agreement with Chicago-based AbbVie . AbbVie focuses on drugs in immunology and virology. It’s best-known product is Humira, for rheumatoid arthritis.
As part of the collaboration, Calico is creating a research and development facility that will focus on drug discovery and early drug development. AbbVie will provide scientific and clinical development support, as well as commercialization expertise and infrastructure. Both companies initially put forth $250 million each, with them possibly ponying up an additional $500 million. The plan is, over the first five years, Calico will manage R&D and advance projects through Phase IIa for a 10-year period. AbbVie will support early R&D, and after completion of IIa studies, will have the chance to manage late-stage development and commercialization.
The Motley Fool focuses on the possibility that Calico will work on cell repair mechanisms. Much of aging involves an accumulation of mutations — replication accidents — that the cell’s repair tools don’t keep up with or don’t fix properly. This type of replication problem is the basis, or at least one factor, in cancers. “Viewed this way,” writes George Budwell, “cell death can be seen as nothing more than a critical regulatory function. But that’s where the most compelling opportunity for medical intervention lies.”
Budwell also speculates that Calico will look at naturally-occurring mutations that are associated with longevity in some families. He also suggests that investors proceed with caution, because it’s likely to take decades to really make progress.
One area that Budwell doesn’t mention, but Calico is likely to be working on, is telomere lengthening. It is very well that telomeres, the protective end-caps on chromosomes, shorten as the body ages. Each time a cell divides, the telomeres become a little shorter. When they hit a critical length, cells no longer divide or die. Researchers, such as those at Stanford University School of Medicine, have developed experimental procedures that result in lengthening the telomeres, which appears to make the cells “younger.”
Calico has developed a number of partnerships and collaborations. Most recently, on July 21, it announced a collaboration agreement with AncestryDNA in Provo, Utah. AncestryDNA, owned and operated by Ancestry.com DNA, LLC, and a subsidiary of Ancestry.com, is a leader in commercial genetic testing. This provides Calico with access to one million genotyped customers and their associated family and medical histories.
It has also entered into agreements with the Buck Institute for Research on Aging, and licensed technology from Peter Walter, a professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) . Walter’s work has focused on modulators of the Integrated Stress Response (ISR), which may be involved in memory decline.