Longevity Fund raises cash to back anti-aging startups

Longevity Fund has raised $22 million to make a fresh wave of investments in companies working to treat age-related diseases. The financing positions Laura Deming, who started work on the fund before turning 18, to follow up on the bets she has already placed on companies such as Unity Biotechnology.

The new fund is small in size compared to many of today’s biotech investment vehicles. But the track record of Deming’s first, $4 million fund suggests the MIT dropout and her team will use the money to make investments in companies worth keeping tabs on.

Longevity Fund has invested in five companies to date. The portfolio includes Unity, an anti-aging startup that extended its series B round last week to bring the total up to $151 million. Longevity Fund also participated in a $25.6 million series A in Precision BioSciences, which went on to pen an immuno-oncology pact with Baxalta and committed cash to Metacrine before Novo Nordisk took up an option on its FGF1 program. 2014 Fierce 15 company Navitor is also in the portfolio.

Deming plans to use the new money to invest in eight to 10 companies, suggesting the fund will continue to place relatively small bets. That partly reflects the fund’s desire to act as much as a bridge to other investors as a source of capital itself. And, when it comes to drumming up interest in anti-aging startups, Deming thinks things will be easier than back when the first fund got going in 2011.  

“Earlier, our biggest challenge was getting other investors on board and convincing them that aging has become a place to play. Now that’s a nonissue, which is great. Our job is to help the companies get other investors on board, so it’s wonderful to see excitement in the space begin to build,” Deming told TechCrunch.  

Deming was years ahead of the uptick in interest in anti-aging research. More than a decade ago, aged 11, Deming wrote to Cynthia Kenyon, Ph.D., the molecular biologist (and one of FierceBiotech's "Top women in biopharma 2015") who was one of the first people Art Levinson, Ph.D., and Hal Barron, M.D., hired to work at Google’s anti-aging offshoot Calico. Deming asked to visit Kenyon’s lab at UCSF. A year later, Deming was working at the lab on research into how genetic and environmental changes alter lifespans.

That led Deming, via a spell at MIT, to a fellowship program set up by Peter Thiel that gave her the chance to found Longevity Fund. Six years later, Deming’s interest in anti-aging looks prescient and the fund is equipped to step up its activities.