Despite blockbuster Altos funding, longevity-focused investment drops by $1B: report

You might have assumed that given the $2 billion launch of Altos Labs—and all the buzz the startup garnered by poaching GSK R&D visionary Hal Barron to become CEO—that funding in longevity research would be sky-high in 2022. But a new report suggests otherwise.

Even with the launch of Altos—of which Jeff Bezos is widely assumed to be a key backer—the longevity sector brought in $5.2 billion, down on the record high of $6.2 billion in 2021, according to a report by U.K.-based research and investment firm Longevity.Technology.

When it came to financing deals in the sector, the contrast was even starker, with just 130 signed last year, the lowest figure since 2017. What’s more, 2022 saw a greater number of smaller value deals with a few large outliers.

The top five deals were all in the U.S., with Altos towering over Maze Therapeutics’ $190 million financing, which made the list even though the money is primarily being used to push forward its preclinical precision medicines for Pompe disease and others. They were followed by Retro Biosciences, a straight-up anti-aging biotech that secured initial funding of $180 million, and AI-powered drug designer Recursion Pharmaceuticals, which raked in $150 million.

Barron’s move from R&D chief at GSK to head up Altos in January 2022 garnered fresh headlines for the often opaque longevity sector. Little is known about Altos, beyond its prestigious leadership team, hefty initial financing and a stated goal of “restor[ing] cell health and resilience through cellular rejuvenation programming to reverse disease, injury, and the disabilities that can occur throughout life.”

2021 was a “breakout year for the longevity industry,” which Longevity.Technology said had benefited from the wave of investment seen across biotech and health. While 2022 got off to a good start thanks to the Altos deal, the company’s launch ended up accounting for over half of the year’s financing for the sector. “Without it, the general growth trend would have followed a pre-2021 trajectory,” the report concluded.

The report blamed a “two-year biotech winter” for the drop-off in financing enthusiasm. But with some skin in the game, it was perhaps unsurprising that Longevity.Technology was keen to stress that they can now “see light at the end of the tunnel.”

The report’s authors pointed to two factors to soothe the worries of longevity CEOs, including their belief that “increasing breadth of innovation in the field combined with the lesser dependence of the seed/series A market on a fully functioning IPO market will inevitably lead to a break in the gridlock in early stage longevity investment.”

Longevity startups have also started to realize that their pitches to investors should be “indication-focused with longevity-upside,” as opposed to the previous trend for setting out “a longevity pitch with some possible indications.”

Longevity.Technology also used Pfizer’s recent investment in VitaDAO—which is focused on raising funds for research on extending human life—as proof that Big Pharma is showing more of an interest in the space.

“We expect some noteworthy activity and identify phase 2 candidates as the sweet spot where Big Pharma’s need for data and biotech startups’ need for big pockets intersect,” the authors said.