Dr Pedro de Noronha Pissarra on lifespan intervention: “If they don’t knock – well, then you build the door.”
Over the last decade information technologies have been converging with biological science to provide the ability to program the basic building blocks of life: DNA. But what application does this have? Enter Chrysea, a clinic-stage company applying principles of synthetic biology to the development of new and rare naturally-occurring products that cannot been made by chemical synthesis in a viable manner.
Longevity.Technology: Chrysea is conducting a controlled, randomised study in generally healthy old males; using state-of-the-art scientific tools, the company aims to define important metabolic pathways and related biological effects of its products – including time – to observed effects and durability of those effects.
Importantly, Chrysea’s research also supports identification of relevant biomarkers that can be developed for use by consumers.
Deploying metabolomic tools normally used in sophisticated pharma studies, together with enhanced autophagy and specific product assays, Chrysea is building a platform that will deliver precision, healthy lifespan nutritional intervention based on credible scientific evidence.
We sat down with Pedro de Noronha Pissarra, PhD, Chrysea’s CEO, to find out more about the company, its raise and its IP.
Chrysea has just raised a significant amount of money in a deal with Juvenescence and Banco Português de Fomento and private investors and is using the funding to develop its first product in the healthy lifespan field, by investing in both clinical research and in pursuit of having a “launch-ready” package with the FDA for its first product towards Q3 2023.
“All the investment raised is going towards the efforts of meeting this key inflection-point,” explains de Noronha Pissarra. “In parallel, a great deal of value is being put into efforts to establish the complete supply-chain for such a disruptive industry. It goes all the way from the design and automation of genome design, small scale production and process development, scale-up, regulatory work, translational biology, clinical research and finally establishing our commercialization model with the objective of monetising on our first product. It’s a highly multidisciplinary effort.”
Chrysea’s recent developments and achievements point to its approach being validated by mid next year and its first product at the “launch ready” stage. Then it’s a matter of repeating the development process with its significant portfolio of products.
Chrysea focus on specialised clever and patient capital, from corporate funds, high net worths (HNWs) and family offices, rather than classic VC investment; de Noronha Pissarra explains that this is because the classic VC model has a different business vision and philosophy from Chrysea’s.
“Of course, this is absolutely fine,” he adds. “With the exception of more specialised funds, I don’t believe that analysts and scouts in most traditional life-sciences venture capital funds would have the bandwidth or structure to evaluate the opportunities in such a new field, one which is highly multidisciplinary, still nascent and where the business models are still not well-defined.” Furthermore, he explains, Chrysea probably does not give VCs the revenue multiples they expect in the timeframe they need or want.
“Classic venture capital is not a long-term business,” says de Noronha Pissarra. “We are here for the long-term and on a value creation exercise. We are creating a unique and disruptive play and in an industry which is growing and maturing by the day. This does not happen over-night and patient capital, as well as top-tier people, experienced executives, profound know-how, access to the best in the various fields is needed.”
He explains that a full control of relatively new supply-chain is also required to enable Chrysea to get where it wants to be in terms of having its product libraries working in an efficient manner – and also to build the supply chain and capabilities to successfully launch them successfully. “Through the last 25 years in the biotech industry, I came to understand that not all companies are fit for the classic venture capital model – especially in Europe,” he says.
Chrysea will eventually exit, but in order to do so, a sustainable, fully integrated and capital efficient business operation needs to be created.
“That will take time, but also this is a great opportunity, since we believe to be able to do it in a swift and cash-efficient manner,” says de Noronha Pissarra, adding that Chrysea runs a “very tight ship” in a very aggressive and assertive manner, with clear objectives and knowing exactly what needs to be done to get to where it wants to be.
“Achieve the sustainability and returns that we think are viable and keep growing from there – it’s just a matter of time,” he says.
Dr de Noronha Pissarra feels that alternative sources of capital, other than classic venture capital funds, seem to be more aware of the fields in which Chrysea is working – and seem to have more interest in deploying money towards its vision.
“It just feels like biotech 20-25 years ago, which was just a promise of a nascent industry, with very little players and lots of deficiencies in supply chains expertise, machinery and specialised services,” de Noronha Pissarra explains. “Now look where we are in the biotech industry – it will be the same in this field. Next you will likely start to see a streak of M&A deals. Look at the recent Gingko-Zymergen deal for example. Where there are difficulties, there are opportunities. If they don’t knock – well, then you build the door.”
Given de Noronha Pissarra’s feeling that VCs are betting against their portfolios as the healthcare industry swings towards more preventative thinking, it begs the question of whether he feels the thesis is accelerating.
“I suppose that usual healthcare venture capitalist fund need exits to keep their businesses running and they need to do it in a relative short time-frame with the highest multiple possible,” he says.
“Their ‘clients’ to whom they sell out, are, in most cases, large pharma or large biopharma companies. Until very recently most biopharma or pharma companies have been disease-focused. Given the last developments in cell and gene therapy, mRNA and genome editing, among others, my feeling is that for the first time in history, the pharma/biotech industry is starting to get fragmented.”
De Noronha Pissarra describes it as a unique reality, where one is able to manage effectively or even cure certain diseases through these disruptive technologies, and he is convinced that treating the ill has now reached an interesting and mature level in terms of efficacy, which will only keep improving.
“I am nevertheless still curious to understand who will pay the price of such great innovations and for the time being, as these therapies are still not cheap,” he adds. “But it is amazing what it has been achieved – for instance, Covid19 management is a true and undeniable example of the success of these disruptive approaches and lots of other exist in various complex fields like oncology, metabolic diseases, etc.”
Dr de Noronha Pissarra points out that healthy people are going through the natural aging process, but there are also certain behaviours common in modern society which are associated with increased risk for a variety of chronic diseases – especially when combined with obesity and poor-health as humans age. Maintaining a healthy lifespan is inevitably associated to a reduction risk of chronic diseases, many of which are age-related such as cognitive decline, cardiovascular disease, immune system weakening and bone and muscle loss, to name just a few.
“Prevention is a new field all together and one which is clearly in the agenda of every government, as well as being considered by citizens and the general population,” says de Noronha Pissarra explaining that there needs to be a change of shift in focus from “disease”, to “function”.
“Acting on the healthy people before they get chronically ill and having to go to the high-end of the disease treatment, is a concern,” he says. “Instead of diagnosing diseases at a point in time, health trajectories across an individual lifespan are finally being addressed in order to delay the onset of certain age/related diseases – so, in essence, there is an increased concern to look after the healthy population. Increasingly, interventions are being developed as to manage the ageing process. They try to the maximum extent possible to do the utter best to avoid the unnecessary deterioration and trepidation associated with the ageing process and on-set of chronic disease.”
Dr de Noronha Pissarra says that having spoken to numerous large companies active in biopharma, pharma, nutrition, consumer products, specialities and ingredients, he can see the start of rapid moves towards prevention, converging towards the other side of the “disease equation”.
“The question I have is given the stage of such a nascent approach and industry, will we see more venture capital funds (other than some already well-established players) shifting or diversifying their portfolios, going from disease to function and competing with their existing portfolio rationale?” de Noronha Pissarra says. “One thing is for sure. The prevention rational is accelerating, and also disease fields are is getting more expensive to invest in – shifting a rationale is a slow process, it takes time and resources, but I personally see this thesis accelerating.”