'To them it was a science fiction story': A VC who’s been investing in anti-aging research for 7 years explains why investors are starting to pour hundreds of millions into a field they had previously snubbed
When Laura Deming launched the Longevity Fund seven years ago, there weren't many investments going into experimental treatments aimed at helping us live healthier and longer.
But now, the anti-aging field about to take off, she says. She's backed five companies, which have gone on to raise hundreds of millions from investors.
"We've seen what happens with no resources," Deming told Business Insider. "Now that we have resources what will happen?"
Laura Deming isn't new to investing in aging.
Since launching her Longevity Fund seven years ago, she's seen the industry go from one side of the spectrum — little to no funding, and in turn, little research happening — to today's explosion of interest from investors in funding work to get humans living healthier and longer.
Deming has backed five companies which have gone on to raise a combined $500 million in capital. One of her investments, Unity Biotechnology, went public in 2018 and entered human trials in June.
On Wednesday, her first class of companies graduated from her fund's Age1 accelerator, aimed at helping younger companies advance their research. The six companies include one focused on hibernation and how humans could tap into animals' "superpowers" and a spin-out from a regenerative medicine lab that's focused on reversing arthritis. Others, like Spring Discovery, are aiming to speed up the process of discovering new aging therapies.
Deming, who's now 24, recalls when she first tried to fundraise for her fund after moving to the Bay Area. When first talking to the biotech venture capital crowd, they were skeptical.
"To them it was a science fiction story," Deming said. For the most part, biotech investments had been flowing into cancer-focused biotechs, another area that's been exploding. In 2017 alone, $133 billion was spent on cancer treatments, and there were an estimated 700 companies have cancer drugs in development.
"I don't blame them, if I were in their shoes having spent the past two decades investing in cancer how would I process the idea of aging?" she said.
The anti-aging field has seen its fair share of failures, as well. For example, Elixir Pharmaceuticals, a company founded in the early 2000s that was backed by ARCH Ventures, ultimately shut down.
These days, Deming isn't alone in the space. Companies like Alphabet's Calico and drug giant Novartis have also taken up research on aging, while startups like Ambrosia Medical are embarking on controversial research, charging $8,000 to participate in a trial to see how blood transfusions from younger people. And analysts expect one type of anti-aging therapeutic, known as senolytics, to upend a $20 billion market.
Now, Deming has heard from investors looking for her help vetting potential investments in the space. Ideally, the more capital flowing into the space, the more the field can advance. To be sure, drug development is risky, and it's possible the field of aging will see failures in the future — potentially alongside successes.
"We've seen what happens with no resources," she said. "Now that we have resources what will happen?"
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