Apollo Health is turning untapped technology into longevity companies

With multiple biotechs targeting a broad range of aging drivers, the company builder’s portfolio of longevity companies is coming of age.

Last month, Saudi-backed non-profit Hevolution made waves by announcing its first venture capital investment in Aeovian Pharmaceuticals, which is developing selective mTORC1 inhibitors therapies for diseases of aging. One of the first venture investors in Aeovian was Apollo Health Ventures – a longevity focused investment firm with a difference.

Beyond its external investments in companies like Aeovian, Haya Therapeutics and Ochre Bio, a significant component of Apollo’s business model is focused on building longevity companies from scratch. Targeting everything from autophagy and senolytics to the microbiome and cellular reprogramming, more than half a dozen companies have already emerged from the firm’s venture creation division – and more are still to come.

Longevity.Technology: It’s often said that if you want something done well, then you should do it yourself. When it comes to leveraging the science of aging to develop new solutions to treat age-related diseases, Germany and US-based Apollo has clearly taken this philosophy to heart. With a focus on longevity, the firm partners with scientific experts to turn “untapped technologies” into new biotech startups, offering maximum value to investors. We caught up with Apollo partner Dr Jan Adams to find out more about the firm’s approach and the progress being made at its portfolio companies.

Of course, building a company from scratch requires a lot more effort and input than simply providing cash, but Adams says the model makes a lot of sense in a market as nascent as longevity.

Jan Adams is a partner at Apollo Health Ventures.

“This field of longevity, healthspan, and the biology behind all of it simply hasn’t been around for very long,” he says. “If you’re focusing on oncology, then there are so many companies that you can look at, because this is an established market that has been around for the last 50 years. In longevity, we are looking at a relatively new field with very few players, so in some ways we feel it’s a necessity to create new companies and help build a market.”

‘Create the opportunity yourself’

While there is a “value creation” aspect to Apollo’s company building approach – the firm owns a significant chunk of any company it creates – Adams says this isn’t the main reason behind it.

“We believe this is the way venture firms should be moving in general, at least as part of their thesis,” he says. “Don’t just sit there and wait for a great team to come through the door and pitch to you – why not create the opportunity for yourself?”

When it comes to finding the talent needed to start a biotech company in the longevity space, Adams explains that there are a few different ways that the process might happen.

“Some researchers are out there in a lab working on some amazing science but have never really thought about spinning that out into a company,” he says. “That might be because they have no interest in the other side of running a science-focused business – writing a business plan, getting funding, and thinking about how to build this out. That’s where we come in – first, to convince them of the opportunity, but also to take care of all that other stuff so they can continue to focus on the science.”

Empowering technology transfer

Alternatively, some academic groups and scientists may already have made the decision to form a company and are seeking a partner to facilitate that.

“We are sometimes approached by teams with a clear mandate to make a company, so they’ve already taken the first step but are not there yet and want us to be part of helping them do that,” says Adams.

As most research in aging and longevity is being conducted in academic settings, a key component of Apollo’s early company building work is with the tech transfer offices of universities and other research institutions.

“We often speak with those people in the background who control the IP – explain to them why starting a company can actually provide greater value than just licensing out technology,” says Adams. “That they can become part of something bigger and keep a big chunk of the value creation. Yes, it means staying in for longer, with more commitment, but there is also more upside.”

A growing longevity portfolio

To date, Apollo has officially launched seven companies from its venture creation division, with several others still in stealth mode:

  • Berlin-based Booster Therapeutics is developing new drug modalities to eliminate toxic accumulations and reinstate balance within cells to address multiple degenerative diseases.
  • Dutch startup Cleara Biotech is designing novel compounds that selectively eliminate senescent cells to extend human healthspan and combat late-stage cancer.
  • Swiss company Focal Biosciences is combining mechano-biology and high content image analysis to discover epigenetic modulators that drive cellular reprogramming and rejuvenation.
  • Another Berlin-based venture, Refoxy Pharmaceuticals is developing novel modulators of FOXO, a central stress response pathway strongly associated with longevity, to address aging-related diseases.
  • British biotech Samsara Therapeutics has developed a platform that identifies autophagy-activating compounds, which it uses to develop medicines for neurodegenerative diseases.
  • US biopharma Thymofox is developing targeted, orally available that induce regeneration and rejuvenation of the thymus to restore immune function in age-related diseases.
  • Munich-based precision medicine company YEARS is developing a holistic dataset of health parameters to enable the discovery and validation of novel biomarkers.

The broad range of pathways and processes being targeted by Apollo’s growing portfolio is, in some ways, reflective of the complexity of aging itself.

“We tend to start at a high level from a phenomenological perspective, and then dig into the fundamental biology of those verticals,” says Adams. “We get into the mechanisms, targets, or pathways that, if they work, should have the potential be translated into an indication, but should also have longer-term potential for improving human healthspan and lifespan.”

And Adams says that he and his colleagues are continually seeking to expand the portfolio, ideally encompassing more and more diverse areas of the aging biology spectrum.

“We’ve been looking into things like reproductive aging, circadian rhythm and many other biological areas that are driving age-related processes,” he says. “For example, we are looking at DNA repair, which is obviously a fundamental area of aging research – specifically double-strand break repair, which is crucial for maintaining genomic stability. We just had a call with a researcher with an interesting approach and compelling data in this area. They had always thought about spinning out a company, but weren’t sure how to do that, which is a perfect example of a situation where we would probably want to find out more.”

Progress to the clinic

With some of the companies built by Apollo now starting to move into clinical stages, Adams says that this means a lot to him and his fellow partners.

“Samsara, for example, will be entering the clinic in a few months and that is super-pleasing because now we’re getting to the point where we can show that this biology has the potential to benefit patients within a few years,” he adds. “It’s great to see things moving like this – navigating through all the challenges of an early-stage science company to get to this point, which is a major value inflection for everyone involved.”

Having built multiple companies targeting many different aspects of aging, does Apollo envisage a future where its creations would work together to combine approaches?

“All the companies are independent – separate legal entities, with different shareholders, but we do encourage collaboration amongst the portfolio,” says Adams. “Who knows what the future holds – at the end of the day, we are all working towards the goal of improving human aging and healthspan, and maybe some combination of approaches will be effective, but it’s still early days.”

Stay tuned for our interview with Swiss longevity company builder, Maximon