Anti-aging outfit Unity bags $55M and looks to the clinic

Unity counts Arch Venture Partners, Partner Fund Management, WuXi, Mayo Clinic Ventures and Bezos Expeditions among its backers. (Simon Wijers)

Having refilled its coffers with a $55 million series C round, Unity Biotechnology is preparing to bring its drug for musculoskeletal disease into clinical trials.

The company, whose mission is to extend the human “healthspan,” is working on drugs to halt, delay or reverse age-related diseases. While the science behind such approaches is murky at best, the anti-aging biotech is cleaning up—it picked up $116 million in its previous fundraising, from the likes of Arch Venture Partners, Partner Fund Management and Venrock, as well as WuXi, Mayo Clinic Ventures, and Bezos Expeditions, which participated in its startup round.

EcoR1 Capital Fund, 6 Dimensions Capital and Altitude Life Science Ventures joined in the series C. Unity will use the new cash infusion to advance its lead senolytic—or senescence-destroying—asset into the clinic.

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"With this latest round of financial support, Unity is on track to file its first Investigational New Drug application and initiate a clinical study during the first half of this year for the potential treatment of osteoarthritis,” said CEO Keith Leonard.

Unity operates on the idea that when cells become senescent, they permanently stop dividing. As these cells accumulate, they start secreting numerous proteins, dubbed Senescence Associated Secretory Phenotype (SASPs). These include inflammatory factors, proteases, fibrotic factors and growth factors that disturb the tissue microenvironment and trigger the senescence of adjacent cells, causing a domino effect resulting in functionally aged or diseased tissue that is behind a range of age-related diseases. By eliminating aged cells, Unity aims to cut off the production of SASPs, thereby targeting a root cause of age-associated disease.

Its other preclinical assets include candidates for ophthalmological indications, including glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and diabetic retinopathy, and those for pulmonary diseases, such as idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

At the time of its series B, Unity’s focus was atherosclerotic disease, specifically removing senescent cells to halt the progression of atherosclerosis. Unity cofounders Judith Campisi and Jan van Deursen published animal research showing that the approach inhibits the growth of atherosclerotic plaques, reduces inflammation and alters the structure of plaque so that it is more stable, but this indication has since disappeared from its pipeline.

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