ImmuneAge emerges from stealth on a mission to rejuvenate the immune system

Company’s ‘Immune Refresh’ approach expands and rejuvenates bone marrow stem cells critical to the function of the human immune system.

Longevity biotech ImmuneAge Bio today emerged from stealth mode, revealing it has secured $2 million in initial funding to advance its platform focused on systemic rejuvenation of the human immune system. The Swiss-US company has developed an approach to rejuvenating the hematopoietic stem cells (HSCs) found in bone marrow, which are the origin of various blood cells that support the healthy function of the immune system.

With early backers including the likes of former a16z general partner Balaji Srinivasan and former Novartis CEO Thomas Ebeling, ImmuneAge says its platform is capable of expanding numbers of HSCs by 1,000-fold, which allows it to conduct high-throughput drug screening to identify new molecules that regulate immune cell aging. Crucially, the company is also planning to use its technology to enable a non-invasive outpatient procedure designed to “refresh” an individual’s immune system using their own rejuvenated HSCs.

Longevity.Technology: While many current approaches to disease treatment involve stimulating and directing the immune cells of patients who are already sick, ImmuneAge is targeting the aging immune system itself. The company is founded on the idea that the immune system governs aging at a systemic level, and that its rejuvenation may help combat many age-related diseases, and potentially even aging itself. To learn more, we caught up with ImmuneAge founder and CEO, Sebastian Brunemeier.

A longevity scientist by training, Brunemeier has been working in the field his entire career and is also a General Partner at longevity VC Healthspan Capital. He previously co-founded Cambrian Biopharma and Samsara Therapeutics and was a principal at Apollo Health Ventures.

ImmuneAge’s COO Dr Josef Christensen and CEO Sebastian Brunemeier.

“I’ve seen a lot of companies working on mechanisms of action to slow aging, and I thought I’d seen it all,” he says. “But when I came across bone marrow rejuvenation, it was clear that this was the lowest hanging fruit, with highest probability of success intervention that I’d seen.”

Brunemeier cites research that showed transplanting young bone marrow into old mice resulted in life extension improvements of up to 30%.

“Nobody has achieved an effect size that large for any other intervention, that’s the world record,” he says. “The problem is, you can’t transplant young bone marrow into an old human, unless it’s a perfect genetic match. So, unless you have a clone that’s 20 years younger than you, that’s not an option.”

Refreshing the immune system

This is where ImmuneAge comes in. Leveraging research conducted by University of Oxford professor Adam Wilkinson, the company’s long-term vision is of a widely available treatment that involves extracting your own bone marrow cells, dramatically expanding their numbers and rejuvenating them in the lab, before putting them back into your body.

University of Lausanne research team.

“We call this the ‘Immune Refresh’ therapy,” says Brunemeier. “Like an oil change or a tune up in your car, we envisage that after a certain age, you will go in for a simple outpatient procedure that is already widely used around the world in bone marrow transplant to extract your HSCs from your blood. We expand them 1000-fold using our proprietary method, which holds the world record for HSC expansion. Then we rejuvenate the cells ex vivo using our in-house cocktails of compounds and infuse them back into the bloodstream, where they home to the bone marrow, which is also how bone marrow transplants work.”

In bone marrow transplants, patients with leukemia or severe autoimmune diseases are also given chemotherapy that kills the existing bone marrow, but ImmuneAge is targeting healthy patients, so this step thankfully isn’t required.

“We just take a little bit out, expand, rejuvenate, reinfuse,” says Brunemeier. “We’re just aiming to give your immune system more ammunition, and we’re probably only about two to two-and-a-half years from putting this method into the clinic.”

Immune-enhancing drug identified

While its Immune Refresh treatment is a longer-term play, ImmuneAge has also used its screening platform to identify potential drugs capable of delivering immune system benefits.

“We have already identified a small molecule – a pill that enhances immune function better than anything published previously,” says Brunemeier. “Through our collaborators in Switzerland we’re seeing a significant immune response to pathogens and cancer, and it makes the immune system look younger in terms of the hallmarks of immune aging. It also appears to have a lot of other effects beyond boosting the immune system – enhancing autophagy, mitochondrial biogenesis and more.”

ImmuneAge isn’t willing to reveal the specific details of the compound quite yet, but Brunemeier says that research groups around the world have demonstrated it shows benefits in other models of disease.

“This basic mechanism of action, this scaffold, seems to work in many different animal models of disease,” he says. “It works in neurodegenerative models, it works in obesity, it works in cardiometabolic disease, but very few compounds like this have been progressed in the clinic as general boosters of immune function. And that’s what we’re looking to do.”

ImmuneAge is currently working on the original “scaffold” compound to improve on its properties through medicinal chemistry, making what Brunemeier refers to as a “turbocharged version.”

“It’s a natural product and it’s not very bioavailable and it has some other liabilities, so we need to improve upon it, at least a little,” he says. “We’re about a year and a half from putting that compound in the clinic, and our lead indication will probably be enhancing vaccine response in the elderly.”

Photographs courtesy of ImmuneAge