Emerging from Stealth Mode to Prevent Diseases of Aging, Unity Biotechnology to Double Hiring in Bay Area
February 3, 2016
By Alex Keown, BioSpace.com Breaking News Staff
SAN FRANCISCO – Cleansing the body of toxic senescent cells could help reverse, or at least slow down, the effects of several ailments associated with aging, including osteoarthritis, glaucoma, heart disease and kidney failure. That’s the model for Unity Biotechnology, which emerged from four years of stealth mode today. Unity Biotechnology, led by Nathaniel David, is focused on developing medications to treat and eliminate age-related diseases and help extend the years that seniors can thrive and have active lives. Using cellular senescence, a biological mechanism theorized to be a key driver of many age-related diseases, David said the company is seeing success in staving off signs of old age in mice models. David said Unity researchers administered their therapy to one mouse and a placebo to its litter mate. Both mice aged, but only the mouse that received the placebo became blind and developed osteoarthritis. Its sibling, which underwent the cellular senescence treatment, was still bright-eyed and active, David said.
Unity launched with an undisclosed amount of funding backed by ARCH Venture Partners, Venrock, Wuxi and the Mayo Clinic. David said the funding is enough to continue company research, as well as support its move into a new facility in South San Francisco that will allow the company to more than double its employment over the next 18 months. Unity currently employs 21 and David said he expects that to grow to 50. The move to South San Francisco will help with potential recruiting, he said.
Although remaining mum on the molecules that Unity is using in its early models, David called the company’s goal an “incredible aspiration.” Human trials are not expected to be started for a few years, but David said the treatments, if they can be transferred to humans, would mean that “our children” will grow up in a “different world than we did.”
“Instead of dying of heart failure at the age of 83, you could die on the tennis court at 99, while winning,” David said in an exclusive interview with BioSpace . “This is the coolest biology I’ve ever worked on.”
David is no stranger to launching companies or cool biology. He has had his hand in founding several biotech companies, including Syrrx, Achaogen and Kythera Biopharmaceuticals . While at Kythera, David oversaw the development and ultimate approval of Kybella, a therapy designed to improve the appearance of moderate to severe convexity or fullness associated with submental fat in adults.
David said he is highly motivated to drive Unity’s cellular senescence science into human trials—not only to provide relief for aging individuals, but also in the hope to develop a treatment for himself. David, like many people over the age of 40, suffers from osteoarthritis, which makes the science at Unity very personal.
“How cool would it be if we’re right? All of us over 40, we’re dealing with things. We could create a drug where we’re no longer in pain because of getting old,” David said.
Unity’s science, if it can be transferred to humans, will be a direct challenge to Calico Life Sciences, which announced a partnership with Provo, Utah-based AncestryDNA to analyze and investigate genetics and longevity using Ancestry’s proprietary databases, tools and algorithms. Recently, Calico, a Google science division specifically targeted at aging, has partnered with Illinois-based AbbVie to reverse engineer the biological aging process in people. The $500 million partnership is slated for a 10-year period to advance its experimental drugs through Phase IIa studies and small mid-stage trials.
In addition to David’s experience in the health services industry, Unity’s leadership has collectively moved more than 90 therapeutic candidates into human clinical trials and is responsible for the creation of 13 FDA-approved medicines. Unity’s executive team includes Jamie Dananberg, the chief medical officer, who was previously head of the Cardiovascular and Metabolic Therapeutic Area Unit at Takeda Pharmaceuticals , and Chief Science Officer Dan Marquess, the former head of Medicinal Chemistry at Theravance Biopharma.
“Everyone who works at this company, it’s not just their job, it’s their passion,” David said. “If we can actually make this work, the diseases we’re going to see treated… these molecules will touch all of us in a deeply personal way.