Developing therapies to kill senescent cells is a burgeoning part of the wider quest to defeat ageing and keep people healthier longer.
Unity – which was founded in 2011 – has received more than $385m in funding to date including investment from big tech names such as Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel.
It went public this May and is valued at more than $700m.
Its first drug entered early clinical trials in June – aimed at treating osteoarthritis.
Other startups with zombie cells in their sights include Seattle-based Oisín Biotechnologies which was founded in 2016 and has raised around $4m – Senolytic Therapeutics whose scientific development is based in Spain and which was established last September (it won’t disclose its financing other than to say it has a first round – which will allow it to reach clinical trials) and Cleara Biotech – formed this June backed by $3m in funding and based in the Netherlands.
In addition Scottish company CellAge also founded in 2016 – has raised about $100,000 to date – partly through a crowdfunding campaign.
‘The concept is totally getting the imagination of investors [because] it isn’t about just slowing down the clock but actually turning it back and rejuvenating people’ says Aubrey de Grey – who for nearly a decade through his campaigning charity the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (Sens) Research Foundation has been urging scientists to work towards eliminating ageing and extending healthy lifespan indefinitely.
‘I’ve never seen a field grow so quickly’ says Laura Niedernhofer – a researcher who studies ageing at the University of Minnesota Medical School – adding that there isn’t even as yet any human data.
‘There is a recognition that there is potential here to go to a root cause [of ageing]’.