In a recent post in Signals, the blog hosted by the Canadian Centre for the Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine, I outline recent developments in the race to develop senescent cell clearance therapies.
The idea of developing biomedical technologies that can repair the underlying cellular and molecular damage that drives the aging process as a way of treating age-related diseases and extending healthy life span is rapidly gaining traction in the biotechnology community. This type of work is now being crowdfunded, part of a trend in crowdfunding regenerative medicine R&D.
The hypothesis that clearing senescent cells could have a rejuvenating effect received a huge boost this past winter:
In a landmark 2012 study, the Mayo Clinic’s Darren Baker and colleagues established the first proof of concept that senescent cells cause age-related functional decline. They genetically modified progeroid mice – which appear to age rapidly, much like humans affected with progeria – in a way that allowed them to selectively remove a class of senescent cells from the mice’s bodies by administering a drug that induced apoptosis (cell death) in these cells. Crucially, they found that clearing senescent cells on a regular basis delayed the development of age-related conditions in the mice’s skeletal muscle, fat and eyes.
While this study provided a proof of concept using a clever design, the extent to which the findings were generalizable to natural aging was unclear, so Baker and colleagues conducted a follow-up study using naturally-aged mice, published this past February in Nature. They found that clearing senescent cells every two weeks increased the median lifespan of male and female mice by up to 35%, and extended their healthspan by delaying the onset of cancer and attenuating age-related deterioration in the kidneys, heart and fat – all with no observed side effects.
You can read the rest of the post HERE.
The Science of Senescent Cells and Aging
For more on the science of senescent cells and their role in aging, watch this talk by Judith Campisi of the Buck Institute for Research on Aging, who is a leading scientist in the field and an advisor to senescent cell clearance startup UNITY Biotechnology.
Crowdfunding Senescent Cell Clearance Therapies
To do your part to accelerate the development of senescent cell clearance therapies, you can also donate to the Major Mouse Testing Program crowdfunding campaign:Tags: aging, anti-aging, biotech, crowdfunding, drug development, fundraising, senescent cells
Prescription drug prices are growing faster than ever, nowhere more so than in the market for orphan drugs, which are developed specifically to treat rare diseases. These medicines often cost more than $300,000 per patient per year, and a new generation of potentially curative gene therapies, like Glybera, will likely top more than $1 million for a course of treatment. With the number of approved orphan drugs and orphan drugs under development growing rapidly, the good news is that it’s never been a better time to be a patient suffering from one of the estimated 7,000 rare diseases. The chances of being able to benefit from a targeted therapy for your condition get better every year.
The bad news is that high orphan drug prices, and the growth in pharmaceutical prices in general, is putting severe strain on government healthcare budgets and even on insurance companies that offer prescription drug coverage. Public health plans often face a moral dilemma because they must decide whether saving the life of a patient suffering from a rare disease using an expensive orphan drug outweighs the likely potential health benefits that could be gained by using that same money to treat many more patients who suffer from a common disease with a cheaper drug.
The CIHR New Emerging Team for Rare Diseases, with which I am affiliated, is exploring a range of issues surrounding this health policy challenge, including the use of crowdfunding for non-profit orphan drug development and the policy preferences of Canadians for orphan drug coverage. The latest output of the team’s work is Million Dollar Meds, an interactive informational website created by Peter Klein and collaborators at UBC’s Graduate School of Journalism. It features interviews with medical and policy experts on orphan drugs as well as with patients suffering from rare diseases, and aims to present the complex debate that surrounds the issue. Check out the trailer for the Million Dollar Meds project:cost of drugs, orphan drug prices, orphan drugs, pharmaceutical prices, rare diseases
In this guest post, Allison Crimmins (Director of Strategy at Remedy Plan) tells us why her biotech startup decided to raise $100,000 via crowdfunding instead of taking the $1 million in traditional risk capital that was on the table. The funds will help to finance its search for drug candidates that block cancer stem cells’ ability to multiply, thereby preventing metastasis, drug resistance, and the recurrence of tumors. You can support Remedy Plan’s research HERE.
It’s not easy turning down a million dollars. Especially when there isn’t a line of investors beating down your door. And saying no to a big investment in favor of running a crowdfunding campaign may sound crazy, but I think we made the right decision.
I’m part of a company called Remedy Plan. We’re a startup biotech company with an innovative technology that allows us to develop drugs that stop the spread of cancer. Our crowdfunding campaign just launched on Monday at fund.remedyplan.com, and made it past 10% of our goal in the first day. We may not have originally planned on going the route of crowdfunding, but it now plays a very important role in our overall business strategy.
Back in 2013, the co-founders of the company, two former classmates at Berkeley, recognized that the work they were doing on embryonic stem cell biology had implications for measuring similar properties in cancer cells… and they dropped everything to focus on this big idea. Greg Crimmins, who invented a promising new way to treat cancer with immunotherapy (patent licensed by Aduro Biotech), immediately knew he had to switch career streams and build a company that would conduct these new experiments. Remedy Plan was born.
“The scope of it blew my mind,” recalls Greg, “I couldn’t imagine a more important series of experiments that needed to be done.” The series of experiments he had in mind could lead to the development of new cancer drugs that target the spreading properties in cancer cells. Rather than attacking both cancer cells and healthy cells, like traditional therapies do, these drugs will be used in Cancer Containment Therapy. Because the spreading properties they identified are shared by many types of cancers but not by healthy mature cells, Cancer Containment Therapy would be applicable to multiple types of cancer without being toxic, including cancers of the breast, lung, liver, prostate, skin, and brain.
Just one problem: that well known funding gap in the drug development process, dubbed the “Valley of Death”, that lies between preliminary tests on a big idea and identifying drug candidates. Or as NIH Director Francis Collins puts it: “where great ideas, unfortunately, go to die”.
Greg and his partner Ron Parchem pitched their companies to several San Francisco area investors, and at first were met with some good luck. With the backing of two respected National Academy scientists on their advisory board, Dr. Frank McCormick at UCSF and Dr. Dan Portnoy of UC Berkeley, they were offered several investments that totaled over $1M. But because the company was in such an early stage, the two founders were unable to negotiate acceptable investment terms. Unwilling to turn over the scientific direction of the company, they turned down the offers.
Realizing that they weren’t going to get the kind of terms they desired, the company took a serious turn: towards crowdfunding. While strengthening the core business (IP, business plan, talking to industry partners, etc) and finalizing a patent submission, the Remedy Plan team also spent the next year working through branding exercises, ironing out language and tone, developing a website, a communications strategy, and the foundations of a crowdfunding campaign.
There are a few reasons for refocusing on crowdfunding. Primarily, the money raised over the campaign, along with some smaller private investments, will allow the company to rent lab space, purchase equipment, and run an initial drug screen. Armed with the proof-of-concept results of this initial screen—plus a cadre of supporters who believed in the idea enough to chip in their own money to see the research happen— Remedy Plan will be in a much better position to negotiate the terms of future investments needed to develop and optimize drug candidates prior to clinical trials. Crowdfunding is the bit of momentum needed to take the first leap across the “Valley of Death”.
But I also believe that there is a secondary benefit to crowdfunding scientific research. Crowdfunding works to tap into people’s inherent curiosity about the world and allows them to be a part of the discovery process. At Remedy Plan, we know that relying on the generosity of people comes not just with gratitude, but with the responsibility to be upfront and honest about our process. Crowdfunding campaigns like ours enable people to get directly involved in funding research, follow the progress of specific researchers, and share in their successes. It works to demystify science and make it accessible to a wider audience.
Our campaign just launched, so it’s still too early to tell if we’ll hit our $100K goal. Regardless, I’m convinced that launching a crowdfunding campaign has strengthened our company and that the mechanism is a viable, beneficial, and exciting tool that will only continue to become more prevalent in today’s biotech startup world.