According to the CDC, the number of Americans aged 65 or older will number nearly 89 million by 2050, or more than double the number of older adults in 2010. Age-associated diseases such as arthritis, vision loss, and cognitive decline cause considerable economic, personal, and societal burden. These diseases negatively impact quality of life, are typically chronic, and progress from the time of onset until death. Our health care expenditures, already the highest among developed countries, are expected to rise considerably as chronic diseases affect growing numbers of older adults. More than two-thirds of all health care costs are for treating chronic illnesses, with that percentage rising to 95% for older Americans. Medicare spending is projected to increase from $903 billion in 2020 from $555 billion in 2011.
Unity Biotechnology (proposed Nasdaq: UBX) is developing therapeutics to potentially halt, slow or reverse age-associated diseases, while restoring human health. The company filed its S-1 yesterday for an $85 million initial public offering led by Goldman, Morgan and Citi. The Brisbane, California, based company has a blue chip roster of investors, according to Forbes, with Arch Venture Partners—who backed Juno, Receptos (both acquired by Celgene), Agios, and Bluebird Bio among others—making the founding investment. Unity raised $116 million in a 2016 Series B round from Baillie Gifford, Fidelity, Partner Funds, Venrock, Bezos Expeditions (yes, that Bezos) and existing investors Wuxi and Mayo Clinic Ventures. Just last month, the company closed on a $55 million Series C round from EcoR1 Capital, 6 Dimensions Capital and Altitude Life Science Ventures, along with other existing investors.
The company’s developmental efforts are focused on eliminating the body’s accumulated senescent cells, which are associated with aging, tissue dysfunction and promotion of disease. As people age, their cells divide until they encounter several forms of biologic stress at which time senescent cells cause cell division to completely cease. The result is an accumulation of senescent cells, leading to inflammation, tissue degradation and the production of growth factors that alter the tissue microenvironment, leading to disease.
The elderly mouse on the left did not have any senescent cells cleared. The one on the right had senescent cells cleared multiple times. Source: Forbes. Image from Unity Biotechnology.
Unity is developing a number of therapies intended to selectively eliminate senescent cells and restore tissue to a more functionally healthy state, thereby addressing the underlying causes of age-associated diseases. The lead program, UBX0101, is designed to treat musculoskeletal disease with an initial focus on osteoarthritis. Unity expects to initiate a Phase 1 clinical study in an osteoarthritis patient population in the second quarter of 2018.
Source: Unity Biotechnology
Unity believes that senolytic medicines—medicines that selectively eliminate senescent cells from diseased tissues—may have four advantages over other efforts to treat age-associated diseases:
- Target a root cause of diseases of aging. Unlike treatments that inhibit the activity of a single factor (such as antibodies targeting single pro-inflammatory proteins), Unity believes a senolytic medicine that selectively eliminates accumulated senescent cells and their associated SASP could simultaneously blunt the activity of numerous factors contributing to disease.
- Intermittent dosing. The administration of senolytic medicines would remove senescent cells from diseased tissue. As new senescent cells may take months or even years to re-accumulate, senolytic medicines could potentially be dosed infrequently. Unity believes that intermittent dosing may improve drug tolerability and patient adherence when compared to chronic therapies.
- Senescent cells accumulate at sites of disease. Unity’s ability to quantify senescent cells and accompanying senescence-associated secretory phenotype (SASP) factors in sites of disease may simplify clinical development through targeted indication selection, patient selection and monitoring of therapeutic response.
- Senolytic medicines may restore tissue to a healthy state. Unity believes senescent cells generally do not accumulate in young individuals and that the accumulation of senescent cells is unnecessary for normal tissue function. The goal for the administration of senolytic medicines is to restore tissue to a functionally younger state.
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