StarkAge secures 2 million euros for senescence targeting therapy

Funding from Bpifrance’s Deeptech program will drive development of company’s immunotherapy approach targeting cellular senescence in age-related disease.

French biotech startup StarkAge Therapeutics today announced it has received €2 million in non-dilutive funding from the Deeptech program of the French public investment bank Bpifrance. The “discovery-stage biotechnology company” is focused on developing immunotherapies for age-related diseases by targeting cellular senescence.

Today’s funding is awarded for StarkAge’s lead program to develop a therapy for idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a debilitating progressive disease with limited therapeutic options that causes the lungs to become fibrotic and scarred. The company says that other fibrotic and metabolic diseases are also under evaluation.

Longevity.Technology: Senescent cells prevent early life cancer and produce molecules that promote tissue repair and regeneration. However, because they accumulate with age, they also eventually cause tissue degeneration, chronic inflammation and many age-related diseases. StarkAge is a new player in the growing group of companies developing senescence-targeting therapeutics – stay tuned for our interview with the company’s new CEO.

In December 2018, Bpifrance launched its Deeptech program, committing up to €1.3bn of direct and indirect investment for French startups, and StarkAge is the latest recipient of funding.

The €2 million in non-dilutive funding will be spread across four years, and is the maximum allowed per project in this program. The company states that a further increase in capital will likely be required to fully fund its pre-clinical IPF program.

“This will help us move our research forward significantly,” said Dr Thierry Mathieu, founder and president of StarkAge. “IPF is the first program we are testing with ExoCise, our cellular senescence biomarker platform. If successfully completed, it could lead to helping with many other age-related diseases.”

Biomarker powered discovery

ExoCise is StarkAge’s proprietary platform that analyses extracellular vesicles (EVs) to identify biomarkers for senescent cells in disease-setting. Secreted by virtually all cell types in the body and released in body fluids, EVs contain various molecules such as RNA, proteins, enzymes and cytokines. Some of these molecules are specific to the tissue they originate from, and even specific to certain cells within that tissue. EVs secreted from diseased or senescent cells in the blood can be used to detect and diagnose specific conditions.

By applying ExoCise to patients with age-related diseases involving senescent cell accumulation, StarkAge hopes to design “safe and targeted” immunotherapy solutions.

New CEO appointed

StarkAge Therapeutics also announced the appointment of pharma industry veteran Dr Pierre-Michel Bringer as CEO.

“Pierre-Michel’s broad industry knowledge, including expertise with investors, and his passion for science make him the strong leader we needed” said Mathieu. “We are thrilled to have Pierre-Michel with us as CEO, and I am happy to hand-over the helm of StarkAge Therapeutics.”

We caught up with Bringer, who told us, “Cellular senescence is a rapidly growing field with potential relevance for the treatment of many age-related diseases. However, early clinical trials with senolytics tested so far in human showed a lack of selectivity, a real weakness we hope to address with our immunotherapy approach. This funding is a major step for StarkAge Therapeutics to move forward, and prepare comfortably for an upcoming capital increase round.”

Photograph: StarkAge Therapeutics