We talk pipeline, trials, raising capital and public company challenges with Juvenescence’s Dr Greg Bailey.
Longevity.Technology: Longevity is growing as a distinct investment category and Thursday’s session at next week’s Longevity 2020 online conference addresses the current state of anti-aging investment. One of the speakers in this session is Dr Greg Bailey, CEO of biopharmaceutical company Juvenescence, which has, to date, raised $165 million to build a pipeline of therapeutic assets to target aging and regeneration.
In this interview:
- Juvenescence looks to bring on board a completely new mechanism for regeneration;
- Q3 product launch of a direct-to-consumer ketone ester drink product that is geroprotective, neuroprotective and cardioprotective;
- Reversing liver failure for people who would otherwise have to pay $700,000 for a liver transplant in the US.
We caught up with Greg to find out the latest developments at Juvenescence, currently in the process of raising $100 – $150 million in new capital, and its pipeline companies. Like almost everyone in the world at the moment, dealing with the impact of COVID-19 is a significant concern.
“First and foremost we’re trying to adapt to a very different business environment.”
“First and foremost we’re trying to adapt to a very different business environment,” he says. “Some labs are closed, things like that, so we’re trying to accommodate that. Happily it hasn’t set us back too far on our liver regeneration product going into clinical trials this year, or the launch of our first product in Q3.”
The liver regeneration product he’s referring to is portfolio company LyGenesis and their lead program, which is due to begin a Phase 2a clinical trial for patients with end stage liver disease this year, which will inject hepatocytes (liver cells) into the patient’s lymph nodes that drain into the liver and the bile duct.
Bailey is hoping “to be able to reverse liver failure for people who would otherwise have to pay $700,000 for a liver transplant in the US or, more likely, there’s not a liver for them – we just don’t have enough livers. I’m really excited about the opportunity of that and to prove up the model that we can use lymph nodes to become ectopic organs.”
The liver regeneration product fits into a new division at Juvenescence called Renescence, that Bailey describes as being focused on products that are “potentially able to regenerate tissues, whether it’s organs or limbs.” Stem cell company AgeX Therapeutics’ approach to regeneration also sits in this new division, as well as a new product that Juvenescence is just about to bring on, which he says has “another totally different mechanism for regenerating an organ or limb.” Wow.
Juvenescence’s Q3 product launch is for a direct-to-consumer ketone ester product from BHB Therapeutics, to be sold in drink form. Bailey points out that the product has demonstrated in mammals to be “geroprotective, neuroprotective and cardioprotective” and is able to get where it needs to in order to have an effect at the cellular level.
“We feel that the products we’re working on have demonstrated that, with an oral administration, they are getting to the right place in the body, the right tissue or into the cell.”
“The problem with non-RX products in general is – are they really getting into the cell and are they really modifying the cell the way they’re supposed to?” he says. “Does it get into the serum in the appropriate concentration, and if it gets into the serum does it actually cross the cell membrane? We feel that the products we’re working on have demonstrated that, with an oral administration, they are getting to the right place in the body, the right tissue or into the cell.”
When we spoke to Aubrey de Grey recently, he highlighted the potential challenges facing public companies in the Longevity field. Juvenescence portfolio company AgeX is publicly traded and Bailey points out that many of the macro challenges are the same as any other biotech business.
“You can go months between positive news, and during that period of time, the shorts can play havoc with your stock,” he says. “And the other thing is, you fundamentally always have to have two years of working capital. If you don’t, the short sellers circle – knowing you’re going to have to do a financing and that they’ll be able to buy-in when you do that financing at a 10 to 15% discount to market.”
But the work conducted by companies working on anti-aging and regenerative therapies also adds another level of variability to the challenge.
“Now you also need to be concerned about the fact that one of your competitor’s trials fails and everybody goes ‘Ah, anti-aging is rubbish – all hype, no reality’ and you get caught in the downdraft,” says Bailey. “And, unfortunately, there have been a number of downdrafts with public companies where their trials have not lived up to expectations.”
With investors beginning to realise the scale of the Longevity market, Bailey feels that this sort of reaction will become less common, but that hasn’t stopped Juvenescence from taking action to mitigate the risk by moving AgeX to a licencing model.
“So now you can’t short because we did a deal with a major Japanese company in January,” he says. “We did a deal with UC Irvine that’ll see us in clinical trials in 18 months from January. So now [as an investor] you’ve got to worry that I sign a licence tomorrow, and the stock jumps and you get caught offside.”
“I think you have to be incredibly thoughtful,” he adds. “It’s definitely a work in progress, the stock has definitely been hit. But I’m excited with what we’re turning around, and I’m hopeful that we’ll have a number of other licences in the near term.”
“It’s just about getting in front of the right people and them understanding there’s going to be a company that is modifying aging that’s going to be worth 100 billion dollars, sooner as opposed to later.”
With Juvenescence in the midst of raising new capital, what does Bailey feel is the appetite for Longevity fundraising in the current climate.
“If Bank of America is right, and the fact that every government investor is going to be looking at boosting the immune system, which is definitely affected by aging, there’s going to be an enormous amount of money available in this,” he says. “So it’s just about getting in front of the right people and them understanding there’s going to be a company that is modifying aging that’s going to be worth 100 billion dollars, sooner as opposed to later. You’ve just got to pick which model you think is the right business model to invest in to get your institution or entity correctly positioned.”