Amazon's Bezos, Mayo Clinic back Unity in $116M Series B to slow diseases of aging


The science of extending human life span via therapeutics remains murky and widely debated. But that didn’t stop investors from plowing $116 million in a Series B round into Unity Biotechnology, which is targeting diseases related to aging. It is focusing its early work specifically on halting the progression of atherosclerotic disease.

The San Francisco, CA-based company just launched earlier this year. And it expects this cash will enable it to advance its research programs in cellular senescence and move its preclinical programs into clinical research.

The financing included Arch Venture Partners, Baillie Gifford, Fidelity Management and Research Company, Partner Fund Management and Venrock. Jeff Bezos’ investment vehicle Bezos Expeditions participated, as did existing investors WuXi PharmaTech and Mayo Clinic Ventures.

“Unity pairs a huge market opportunity with highly compelling biology and a proven and experienced management team,” said Arch co-founder and Managing Director Bob Nelsen in a statement. "We added deep financial backing to match the potential." He also sits on the Unity board.

Interestingly, Unity has also opted to tap a new CEO with more experience in clinical and regulatory execution, rather than a more research-oriented background. Keith Leonard, the former CEO of chin-fat biotech Kythera Biopharmaceuticals, has been tapped as Unity CEO, with the existing founder and previous CEO Nathaniel David becoming its president to focus on the company’s biology platform.

Kythera sold to Allergan last year for $2.1 billion. Prior to Kythera, Leonard was also at Amgen ($AMGN) for 13 years.

Unity just published results of its work on the role of senescent cells in disease. Unity co-founders Judith Campisi and Jan van Deursen have published in the journal Science a description of the role of senescent cells in atherosclerotic disease.

The pair expect that the selective elimination of senescent cells holds promise in the treatment of atherosclerosis. Their animal research in early and late disease shows that this inhibits the growth of atherosclerotic plaques, reduces inflammation and alters the structure of plaque so that it is lower risk and more stable. Earlier this year, the co-founders also published related work in Nature and Nature Medicine.

“This newly published work adds to the growing body of evidence supporting the role of cellular senescence in aging and demonstrates that the selective elimination of senescent cells is a promising therapeutic paradigm to treat diseases of aging and extend health span,” said Unity CMO Dr. Jamie Dananberg. “We believe that we have line of sight to slow, halt, or even reverse numerous diseases of aging, and we look forward to starting clinical trials with our first drug candidates in the near future.”