Altos bursts out of stealth with $3B, a dream team C-suite and a wildly ambitious plan to reverse disease

Altos Labs just redefined big in biotech. Where to start? The $3 billion in investor support? The C-suite staffed by storied leaders—Barron, Bishop, Klausner—identifiable by one name? Or the wildly ambitious plan to reverse disease for patients of any age? Altos is all that and more.

Early details of Altos leaked out last year when MIT Technology Review reported Jeff Bezos had invested to support development of technology that could “revitalize entire animal bodies, ultimately prolonging human life.” The official reveal fleshes out the vision and grounds the technology in the context of the nearer-term opportunities it presents to improve human health.

“It's clear from work by Shinya Yamanaka, and many others since his initial discoveries, that cells have the ability to rejuvenate, resetting their epigenetic clocks and erasing damage from a myriad of stressors. These insights, combined with major advances in a number of transformative technologies, inspired Altos to reimagine medical treatments where reversing disease for patients of any age is possible,” Hal Barron, M.D., said in a statement.

Barron is set to take up the CEO post when he leaves GlaxoSmithKline in August, completing a C-suite staffed by some of the biggest names in life sciences. The former Genentech executive will join Rick Klausner, M.D., and Hans Bishop at the top of Altos. Klausner, co-founder of companies including Juno Therapeutics and Grail, is taking up the chief scientific officer post. Bishop, who used to run Juno and Grail, is Altos president. The leadership team is rounded out by Chief Operating Officer Ann Lee-Karlon, Ph.D., formerly of Genentech.

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The team will use $3 billion in capital committed by investors including Arch Venture Partners to try to turn breakthroughs in our understanding of cellular rejuvenation into transformational medicines. That effort will build on the work of a galaxy of academic scientists Altos has brought under its umbrella.

Aiming to integrate the best features of academia and industry, the startup is setting up Altos Institutes of Science in San Francisco, San Diego and Cambridge, U.K. Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte, Ph.D., Wolf Reik, M.D., and Peter Walter, Ph.D., will lead the three institutes, overseeing the work of a current roster of almost 20 principal investigators across the sites. The scientific leadership team also features Thore Graepel, Ph.D., co-inventor of AI breakthrough AlphaGo, and Shinya Yamanaka, M.D., Ph.D., a Nobel laureate who gives Altos ties to Japan.

Klausner, who founded Altos with Bishop, and his colleagues brought the scientists together and created a board of directors that features luminaries such as CRISPR pioneer Jennifer Doudna, Ph.D., and fellow Nobel laureates Frances Arnold, Ph.D., and David Baltimore, Ph.D., to help bring cellular rejuvenation out of academic labs and into clinical development. 

“Altos seeks to decipher the pathways of cellular rejuvenation programming to create a completely new approach to medicine, one based on the emerging concepts of cellular health,” Klausner said. “Remarkable work over the last few years beginning to quantify cellular health and the mechanisms behind that, coupled with the ability to effectively and safely reprogram cells and tissues via rejuvenation pathways, opens this new vista into the medicine of the future.”