From cellular reprogramming to regeneration, more than 80% of funding in 2022 was focused on five key longevity domains.
One of the most striking findings of our recent Annual Longevity Investment Report was that the vast majority of longevity funding (80%) is concentrated into just five of the 25 domains that make up the field. The data shows that cellular reprogramming, discovery platforms, longevity drugs, rejuvenation and regeneration are the domains that attracted some $4 billion of the total investment in 2022.
Longevity.Technology: It is inevitable that some domains within a market will attract more investor interest than others, and longevity is no exception. We have noticed longevity investors are increasingly divided into two camps – those prepared to play the long game and invest in longevity biotech opportunities, and those seeking a faster return on their investment through opportunities in areas such as diagnostics, longevity clinics and supplements. So what are the hot areas within longevity, and are there opportunities outside of those for investors?
The top five longevity domains for investment in 2022, along with the top three financings in each domain, are as follows:
1. Cellular reprogramming
Cellular reprogramming refers to companies that are aiming to reverse an older cell into a younger cell state by directly reprogramming its code: i.e its genetic or epigenetic makeup. Cellular reprogramming by Yamanaka factors can reprogram somatic cells into induced pluripotent stem cells. However, this came with therapeutic hazards as the technique involved complete dedifferentiation. There are companies that are aiming to find new genetic targets to reduce cells’ epigenetic age whilst maintaining their somatic identity (partial cellular reprogramming).
The fact that cellular reprogramming holds the top spot is, of course, solely due to the $3 billion raised by Altos Labs. Without it, cellular programming wouldn’t even be in the top five domains, but the fact that the funding is concentrated in one company does not diminish the impact on the field.
Since the groundbreaking work by Takahashi and Yamanaka in 2006, which first demonstrated that age-related cellular changes can be reversed, the field of cellular reprogramming has gained a great deal of traction. The revolutionary possibilities that cellular reprogramming holds, if it can be mastered, would have immense impact on health span and even lifespan. The field has also attracted some big names – Altos Labs has reportedly been backed by Jeff Bezos, and Calico Labs, a Google spinout, is tackling aging in part by focusing on cellular reprogramming. Cellular reprogramming should continue to grow and attract significant capital, but investors must recognise that these companies are only at the ‘pre-clinical in vitro’ and ‘pre-clinical in vivo’ stages.
2. Longevity discovery platforms
Drug discovery is a long, expensive, and often unsuccessful process. Platform technologies are considered a valuable tool to improve efficiency and quality in drug product development. There are many companies in the longevity space that are developing proprietary discovery platforms to enable the discovery of therapeutic targets for longevity.
3. Longevity drugs
Longevity pharmacology field promises to revolutionise the healthcare of a growing aging population. A longevity drug is any novel molecule that was designed or discovered to specifically act on a longevity gene/pathway (rapalogs, pgc1-activators, sirtuin modulators, etc).
Rejuvenation has many definitions in the longevity industry. Arguably, anything that reduces the biological age of a cell, organ or person is “rejuvenating”. Our report has made rejuvenation a distinct category from reprogramming and regeneration, although both will technically rejuvenate cells and systems. Rejuvenation in this context is anything that takes the contents of a cell to a younger state due to intracellular clearance or rejuvenation of organelles within the cell.
All living organisms have some ability to regenerate as part of natural processes to maintain tissues and organs. Regeneration is the natural process of replacing or restoring damaged or missing cells, tissues, organs, and even entire body parts to full function in plants and animals. Stem cell companies play an important role in regeneration because they can develop into many different cell types in the body, even producing entire tissues. Other companies are aiming to replace entire organs through methods such as xenotransplantation or tissue engineering.
Comparison to 2021
The annual report also takes a closer look at the top 5 domains in 2022 compared to 2021 – a record year for longevity investment.
Regeneration was the top domain in 2021, but it fell to 5th place in 2022. 2021 was a particularly good year for regenerative companies within longevity, with six deals over $100mm and a median deal size of $30.5mm. This compares with 2022 where the median deal size was $16.6mm. Looking at the trends, the global tissue regeneration market is predicted to continue to grow, and it is safe to assume that the rise of age-related degenerative disease will continue to drive demand.
The comparison also highlights the meteoric rise of cellular reprogramming, and the disappearance of longevity diagnostics and genetics.
By tracking what is happening intrinsically within our bodies as we age, or monitoring our exposure to longevity determinants, longevity diagnostics have the potential to promote a healthier aging process. Longevity diagnostics received significant investment in 2021, corresponding to 10% of total longevity funding, possibly buoyed by a broader focus on diagnostics as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Such a level of investment was not repeated in 2022.
A similar trend was seen for longevity genetics which largely, but not exclusively, consists of companies working on gene therapies. The study of longevity genes is a developing science; it is estimated that about 25 percent of the variation in human life span is determined by genetics, but which genes, and how they contribute to longevity, is not well understood. Longevity genetic companies are on a mission to identify, and correct with gene therapies, to facilitate a longer life.
The spike in 2021 activity mirrors an overall trend seen across the broader gene therapy market which saw an increasing number of clinical catalysts and more regulatory approval. The report authors consider this a promising area; however, the strict regulatory environment also means there is considerable risk, and the investment trends may swing considerably year over year.
Where will the answer to aging come from?
With 25 domains to choose from, investors have a lot of work to do to decide where to place their investment dollars. Most authorities in longevity agree that the solution to aging is unlikely to come from a single technology or scientific approach.
As Loyal founder Celine Halioua told us: “If we want an aging drug this decade, we need multiple well-funded ($100M+) shots on goal. These shots on goal need to be funded even if their first few attempts fail. Patient, rigorous capital is key to breaking through this field.”
These sentiments are echoed by Dr David Weinkove, Chair of the British Society for Research on Aging.
“There are companies that are going after specific targets or specific mechanisms of aging,” he told us. “But if there are eventually therapies that slow aging, they’ll probably be working on multiple levels.”
And the investment community concurs.
“We are complex beings, in a complex environment, in a complex state over a period of time,” says Petr Sramek of LongevityTech.fund. “So, we are not betting on one area, like cellular senescence or epigenetic reprogramming. We believe that the solution will lie in a personalised and precise combination of various technologies addressing various situations. Therefore, we are building a comprehensive, synergistic set of portfolio companies.”
We’ll be intrigued see if the longevity investment trends seen in recent years will continue in the years ahead, or if other domains will rise to become the new darlings of the investment community. One thing is for certain – it’s going to be interesting!