Continuing her life's work on aging with the power of Google
Company: Calico (Google)
Title: Vice President of Aging Research
Google's ($GOOG) Calico has kept very quiet in most respects, shrouding its research and business prospects in a blanket of generalities about aging and longevity. What has generated the most excitement, however, is the crack team Calico has assembled over the past couple of years, including one of the foremost experts on aging from the University of California in San Francisco: Cynthia Kenyon.
Kenyon, a renowned geneticist, left UCSF last year for Calico after advising the startup in its first few months, though she has also remained an emeritus professor at the school. She serves as the vice president of aging research at the Google-owned company, joining CEO Art Levinson and R&D chief Hal Barron, in a who's who of biotech insiders.
At UCSF, Kenyon gained notoriety for decades of work on aging in roundworms, for which her genetic modifications could effectively double the lifespan. Her first foray into clinical therapies was the co-founding of Elixir Pharmaceuticals in 1999, which closed a few years ago after a Novartis ($NVS) buyout fizzled due to cash concerns during the economic recession. And that's where Google's deep pockets will likely allow Kenyon and the rest of the team at Calico to reverse course and take their work to the next level.
According to Calico, research on the genetics of the aging process can lead to an unprecedented number of therapies and prolong life for people with a number of age-related diseases. The specifics are still under careful wraps, but the ultimate goal, though broad, is evident.
"We are trying to find drugs that people could take to make them disease-resistant, more youthful and healthy," Kenyon told the Bay Area Observer back in 2013, as reported by SFGate. "Eventually we will find them. … Just living longer and being sick is the worst. But the idea that you could have fewer diseases, and just have a healthy life and then turn out the lights, that's a good vision to have. And I think what we know about some of these pathways suggests that might be possible."
And Calico is part of an important crossroads at Google, as the tech megacorporation splits its search engine and advertising business from its Google Life Sciences arm, including Calico, all under the umbrella known as Alphabet. As a result, the life sciences division can run independently and outside of the reported financial results of the parent company. What we know about Calico, therefore, is relegated to broad research goals, impeccable hiring and a string of recent academic and business collaborations that shed light on some more specific directions.
For instance, last year, Calico partnered with AbbVie ($ABBV) to focus on age-related diseases such as neurodegeneration and cancer. The company also tied the knot with the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, as well as the Buck Institute for Research on Aging.
In Kenyon's second shot at the biotech industry, she seems to be doing everything right: she joined a world-renowned team that is backed by a company with not only the coffers available to finance cutting-edge science but also enough faith in its vision to let that team lead the way. And she's all in.
Kenyon once wrote, as reported by SFGate: "To me, it seems possible that a fountain of youth, made of molecules and not simply dreams, will someday be a reality." -- Michael Gibney (email | Twitter)
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