Longevity Company Unity Biotechnology Stocks Soared After CEO Talks to CNBC
Published: Sep 14, 2018 By Mark Terry
After Unity Biotechnology chief executive officer Keith Leonard was on CNBC’s “Power Lunch,” touting the company’s therapeutic approach to longevity and aging, company shares soared almost 18 percent. Trading was halted for volatility, and after it resumed, shares lost some of those gains, eventually ending up about eight percent.
Back in June, BioSpace covered Unity Biotechnology, noting the company had raised $222 million in venture capital followed by $85 million in a May initial public offering (IPO). The company had a $700 million market value.
The company’s focus is on killing senescent cells. Senescent cells are aging cells that aren’t actually dead, but no longer function. They build up in the body and cause much of the symptoms related to aging—aching joints, reduced eyesight and some diseases of aging, such as arthritis and potentially Alzheimer’s. Unity believes that if you kill those senescent cells, you can eliminate many of those aging symptoms.
Leonard told CNBC that, “The evidence is mounting, both in our company and outside, that you can intervene and you can change the course of these specific diseases.”
The company’s UBX0101 is currently in Phase I clinical trials for osteoarthritis of the knee. It also has preclinical programs in ophthalmology (UBX1967), various pulmonary diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and loss of circulating youth factors such as cognition and kidney disease. UBX0101 is described as “a potent senolytic small molecule inhibitor of the MDM2/p53 protein interaction. Disruption of this protein interaction can trigger the elimination of senescent cells.”
Based on where it is in studies, the sudden surge in company shares doesn’t make that much sense. Simply Wall Street observes that the company, which at its size would likely have a disproportionate insider ownership of shares, seems to have picked up a number of institutional investors. It writes, “Institutions typically measure themselves against a benchmark when reporting to their own investors, so they often become more enthusiastic about a stock once it’s included in a major index. We would expect most companies to have some institutions on the register, especially if they’re growing.”
In the case of Unity, institutional investors own 43.9 percent of the company, which Simply Wall Street says, “suggests some credibility amongst professional investors. But we can’t rely on that fact alone, since institutions make bad investments sometimes, just like everybody else.”
In August, CNBC reported that a couple of Unity Biotechnology investors include Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel. They’re high-profile, heavy-hitting investors, but it’s not as if Unity Biotechnology is the only company focused on aging, or the only company receiving the attention of prominent (and aging) billionaires. Google/Alphabet’s Calico is one of the companies that has a high profile in this area.
Bill Gates and Google co-founder Larry Page have invested in a universal flu vaccine. Michael Bloomberg invested in Finch Therapeutics via his family office Willett Advisors. Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group invested in Doctor On Demand. Thiel also co-led a $10 million investment round in ChemomAb, an Israel-based company working on treatments for immune system disorders.
But all of these people invest in a broad array of companies that show promise, so it’s hard to say whether their own aging plays a real factor in their investment strategy, or they just feel these are companies likely to bring in a real return on investment.
But maybe Leonard’s optimism struck a chord with investors. Or, as is the case, the science is just very interesting. “In the far future,” he told CNBC, “we can imagine a world where you can go into the clinic once or twice a year and have your senescent cells removed and kind of you [are] maintained in a more youthful, vigorous state.”