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Chemical screening to find hidden Longevity gems?

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Start-up NemaLife evolves from platform technology to services provider to identify chemicals that have both positive and negative effects on Longevity.

The use of the C.elegans invertebrate in the study of Longevity is well understood, but one company is using the model organism in a new way. Texas-based start-up NemaLife is aiming to help prioritisation of drug studies in mammalian models by offering comprehensive screening services for thousands of compounds. The company’s platform uses the C.elegans model in combination with AI to provide phenotypic information related to changes in a wide range of areas, including both healthspan and lifespan.

NemaLife is aiming to help prioritisation of drug studies in mammalian models by offering comprehensive chemical screening for thousands of compounds.
Some of the NemaLife team including co-founders: Siva Vanapalli and Mizanur Rahman (second and third from left)

NemaLife has its origins at Texas Tech University, and co-founder Mizanur Rahman’s graduate project, which explored microfluidic technology for aging and healthspan investigations in C. elegans. We spoke to Chief Business Officer Marton Toth, who tells us that NemaLife sets itself apart from other organisations in the Longevity space that focus on correcting, reversing or minimising the damage associated with aging.

“As far as I know, we are the only company in the whole Longevity space that is focusing on preventive testing of chemicals that everybody is exposed to in their everyday life – from food to drugs to cosmetic products,” he says. “We are focusing on prevention, so that people can make important decisions to only use chemicals that are (in this invertebrate system) found to be safe or ideally having beneficial effects for the aging process.”


“As far as I know, we are the only company in the whole Longevity space that is focusing on preventive testing of chemicals that everybody is exposed to in their everyday life …”


 

NemaLife’s first product, called Infinity, is a screening system designed for research laboratories, but that was just the beginning.

“We have realised that there is a much bigger opportunity related to these activities,” says Toth. “So we’ve started offering our in-house testing capacity to businesses and become a screening service company.”

So why is this important? In everyday life we are always surrounded by chemicals – in our food, our medication, our beauty products and so on. And, while these chemicals are of course tested, they are usually only tested for very basic safety features like acute toxicity – not for things like their potential impact on aging.


“… look at a complex product that has multiple ingredients, most companies only use the safety information for each ingredient independently, not combined in a final product …”


 

“There is also a limitation in combinational testing,” says Toth. “So if you have a look at a complex product that has multiple ingredients, most companies only use the safety information for each ingredient independently, not combined in a final product.”

The cost and time taken to conduct testing in rodents or mammals is prohibitive but NemaLife believes it has found a sweet spot that provides a lot of the biological relevance of mammalian test  but at high-speed and at an affordable price point.

“So we’re basically growing from a product hardware and software company that supports Longevity research into a service screening service company that can test a vast number of chemicals for their aging-related effect,” says Toth. “That is currently a minimal or almost non-existent market.”

Having only been exploring this opportunity for a few months, NemaLife has already secured initial projects for customers across a range of sectors, including pharmaceuticals, nutraceuticals, agri-bio and cosmetics.

Infinity Lab
The Infinity Lab at NemaLife

“We’ve started providing small scale services for billion dollar companies in this space who are testing our services,” says Toth. “The obvious primary target markets are cosmetic and pharmaceutical companies – their current models and operation offers the most seamless integration of our services. Pretty much all the global pharmaceutical companies are sitting on hundreds of thousands of chemicals in their compound libraries that could be tested for their Longevity effects, but there’s no viable technology for that at the moment.”


“… global pharmaceutical companies are sitting on hundreds of thousands of chemicals in their compound libraries that could be tested for their Longevity effects …”


 

While it’s still early days for the company, NemaLife has lofty goals for its scalable approach to testing.

“Our goal is to create a new gold standard for this type of product testing,” says Toth. “If you consider that pretty much nobody tests for the long term effects of their product at the moment because of financial and time limitations, then hopefully we can become the foundation for a new type of testing regime, a new type of thinking about long term safety of chemicals.”

There are of course some limitations to NemaLife’s technology, which is testing invertebrates and not human beings. But there are clear advantages of having an affordable, high throughput screening method that can point out potential long term hazards and benefits of specific chemicals.

C-elegans worms
The C-elegans worm

“We are not going to replace mammalian testing or clinical trials,” says Toth. “We want to help our customers point their focus to chemicals that should be tested first.”

Having been predominantly self-funded to begin with, NemaLife’s revenue initially came from sales of the Infinity system to academic labs, but Toth notes that about half of the company’s revenue this year is coming from its new screening services. As a result, NemaLife is seeking seed round funding in 2020 to ramp up its business.

“We are looking for investors who see the relevance of the vision that we see in the market and who would offer us the business and financial resources to be able to make the next step toward significant scale up,” says Toth.


 

We’ll be addressing Longevity funding during our online conference:

Longevity2020 is 100% digital – we will bring together the experts, the innovators, the investors, and the curious (online) for 2.5hrs each day over 5 fascinating days.

Pre-registration is now open now. Once we’re happy that we have our launch programme of speakers and subjects sufficiently ready we’ll switch ticketing to live.

Images courtesy of NemaLife
Danny Sullivan
Contributing Editor Danny has worked in technology communications for more than 15 years, spanning Europe and North America. From bionics and lasers to software and pharmaceuticals – and everything in between – he’s covered it all. Danny has wide experience of technology publishing and technical writing and has specific interest in the transfer from idea to market.
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