Biotechs Froth as Famed Startup Incubator Y Combinator Joins $100B Anti-Aging Quest


Live forever or die trying, the expression says. And now, maybe, get some funding for your effort. Y Combinator, a seed-stage accelerator, is launching YC Bio, an accelerator fund focused on early-stage life science companies in the lab phase focused on longevity and aging.

Y Combinator is best known for accelerating startups like Dropbox, Airbnb and Stripe. In the biotech space, it has funded Ginkgo Bioworks, Verge Genomics, and Perlara PBC, among others.

YC Bio’s funding will be slightly different, boiling down to larger investments with larger ownership stakes. The typical deal is an investment of around $120,000 with a seven percent ownership. YC is offering between $500,000 and $1 million in exchange for a 10 to 20 percent ownership stake.

As part of the deal, YC Bio will offer free laboratory space in partnership with an entity that has yet to be determined. It will also offer participating companies “a number of other special deals” and access to business and scientific experts.

Sam Altman, president of Y Combinator, said in his blog post announcing YC Bio, “Because biology is such a large field, we’re going to try concentrating on one sub-area at a time (we’ve found the companies working in similar areas get a lot of value from being around each other). The first area we’re going to focus on is healthspan and age-related disease—we think there’s an enormous opportunity to help people live healthier for longer, and that it could be one of the best ways to address our healthcare crisis.”

Applications for funding are open now and will be announced in June.

Amber Tong, with Endpoints News, writes, “Players long in the game, though, recall that the same kind of hype cycle drove GlaxoSmithKline to buy Sirtris for $720 million, only to shut it down five years later and absorb the remaining slow-moving programs in its R&D group. Google’s stealthy Calico and some more recent entrants like Juvenescence, though, have been keeping the flame burning.”

It may be that healthspan and longevity is a field whose time has come. Genomics has deepened significantly in the last two decades, as well as understanding of the molecular causes of aging, such as telomere shortening and telomerase. And advances in immuno-oncology have suggested that our ability to stimulate and manipulate the human immune system may have uses for the field of longevity as well.

When Y Combinator backed Gingko Bioworks in 2014, the first time it backed a biotech company, Altman told TechCrunch that three things were happening in biotech: “Upcoming hyper growth, costs coming down to series-A scale, and cycle time coming down to something reasonable for a startup.”

As investments, biotech startups are generally viewed as volatile, high-risk, high-reward investments, and betting on longevity companies is likely the same. But Altman, at least when he’s in sales-hype mode, seems focused on the reward end. In an interview with MIT Tech Review, he said, “You could make a pill that added two years to a person’s life that would be a $100 billion company.”

Which is absolutely true. Or you could invest a million in a company that crashes and burns within five years. With any luck, you’ll live long enough to enjoy the fruits of a successful longevity company.

In the meanwhile, eat a healthy diet, exercise, stay optimistic, and choose your parents wisely.

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