Could regenerating the thymus boost human longevity?

Videregen gears up for clinical trials of regenerated organs and tissues as company targets chronic and immune-related disease.

DISCLOSURE: Longevity.Technology (a brand of First Longevity Limited) has been contracted by the company featured in this article to support its current funding round. Qualifying investors can find out more via the Longevity.Technology investor portal.

British regenerative medicine company Videregen is on a mission to cure chronic diseases and is targeting the human immune system through its work to regenerate the thymus. Building on groundbreaking work conducted at the Francis Crick Institute, Videregen believes its technology holds the potential to restore the function of the aging immune system. The company is already approved for initial clinical trials of its technology in respiratory disease and is working towards trials of its regenerative thymus technology within three years.

Longevity Technology: The thymus is a small but important organ in the immune system and is responsible for the development and maturation of critical T cells. It plays a key role in our early development, but declines significantly as we age, along with the functionality of our immune system, and its decline is linked to several age-related and chronic diseases. Videregen is betting that its technology can help restore the thymus, potentially rejuvenating our immune system in the process. To learn more, we spoke to the company’s CEO, Dr Steve Bloor.

When it comes to the company’s work on the immune system, Bloor explains the thymus is an organ that hasn’t historically received much attention. 

“The thymus had largely been ignored because it’s complicated, and historically understanding of the biology had progressed slowly,” he says. “It’s starting to accelerate now and a lot of the work that the Francis Crick Institute has been doing is aimed at understanding the core stem cell niche of the thymus and use this to recreate thymus biology.”

Could regenerating the thymus boost human longevity?
Videregen is headquartered at the Nexus Building in Leeds, UK.

A better understanding of the biology

This work led to the key Nature paper published by the Crick, which describes the science that now underpins Videregen’s immune-focused program.

“Until recently, there was uncertainty around the progenitor stem cell that leads to the epithelial cells that gives the thymus function,” says Bloor. “The Crick researchers discovered novel progenitor cells and we have licensed the resulting patents, which give us the basis of the cell biology. That allows us to build a better functioning thymus from scratch, because we understand the cell biology better than anyone else.”

The key IP held by Videregen centers around understanding the types of cells needed to rebuild the thymus.

“The groundbreaking science and IP around our bioengineered thymus technology is predominantly around the identification, isolation and culture of the correct cell types that need to have the right abilities to be able to reconstitute the immune system,” he says.

Thymus plays ‘big role’ in longevity

The initial indication for Videregen’s immune program is children born without thymus function, which is called complete DiGeorge Syndrome, but Bloor stresses that this is only the beginning of the company’s work in this area.

“The thymus is primarily concerned with two things: the first is to provide T cells, which fight infection and circulate our bodies throughout our life, taking out precancerous cells,” says Bloor. “Over time, our thymus function decreases, which is why in old age, you tend to get more cancers, you respond less well to vaccines, and you get more infections. So addressing thymus atrophy is a big factor in longevity and aging.”

Bloor says the other main role of the thymus is to protect the body against attack by its own immune system, which leads to autoimmune diseases.

“Conditions like type one diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis have a thymic dysfunction component to them,” he explains. “It’s quite complicated and is probably not going to be as simple as giving people a new thymus, but we believe our approach may help us intervene in autoimmunity. And these are diseases of the millions rather than the few.”

Crucially, Videregen has developed advanced knowledge and IP around how to industrialize and scale up the decellularization process – something that, Bloor says, “not many other companies can do.”

“At the moment, we’re focusing on niche, orphan indications, which means we don’t need to industrialize to a big scale – we’re talking about hundreds or thousands of patients, not millions,” he adds. “But when we get to those kinds of scales of populations, we will need the technology to be able to deliver a mass-produced tissue.”

Leadership in decellularization

Videregen’s approach is built on the company’s expertise in decellularization – the process used to isolate the extracellular matrix of a tissue from its inhabiting cells, leaving only a “scaffold” of the original tissue. This scaffold can then be seeded with appropriate cells to enable organ and tissue regeneration.

Could regenerating the thymus boost human longevity?

“We’ve learned that the biology of the extracellular matrix is really important – it isn’t just structural,” says Bloor. “If you preserve the biology well, you get better infiltration of cells, better vascularization, and better repair and function over time. This is achieved by controlling the way the tissue is processed and decellularized – the more natural the better.”

In addition to the company’s work on the immune system, Videregen is also targeting respiratory diseases.

“Our most advanced program is to repair defects in a patient’s airway, where a surgeon will create a patch made from our extracellular matrix with the patient’s own stem cells seeded onto it,” says Bloor. “We are now approved to move ahead with a clinical trial of that technology in the UK, so we’re raising funding to move that forward.”

Videregen is now seeking $10 million to move both of its programs through to clinical trials. The respiratory program is ready to enter trials immediately, while the company expects the bioengineered thymus should be ready for trials within three years.

Qualifying investors can find out more about Videregen via the Longevity.Technology investor portal.

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