- A company co-founded by former physician Mark Allen and several Harvard researchers are trying to develop a therapeutic to address aging to treat diseases like heart failure, coronary artery disease, and muscular dysfunction.
- They're focusing on a protein with regenerative effects called GDF11 that's found in blood.
- The company has raised $5.5 million in seed funding and are in the process of doing a much larger funding round.
"Something really fascinating has changed from the time I went to medical school to now," Mark Allen, CEO and co-founder of Elevian, a Harvard spinout company that's developing medicines to cure aging, told Business Insider.
In the past, treatments for Alzheimer's Disease, for example, could only be used to treat Alzheimer's Disease and specifically honed in on solving one symptom of the disease: the protein plaques that accumulate in the brain.
Allen saw a problem with that. These drugs were designed to treat late-stage manifestations of the disease. This means that by the time the proteins appear in the brain, the patient is already pretty far along in the disease timeline and drug intervention is coming in too late.
And even if the drugs targeting these protein accumulations were successful, they were specific to just Alzheimer's Disease, meaning they'd be difficult to repurpose for other related conditions.
Allen envisioned a drug that could be used to treat a variety of diseases. To accomplish this, he sought to develop new therapeutics that focus on targeting the root causes of aging, which is a characteristic implicated in many diseases ranging from heart diseases to neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's. This would also allow for the disease to be targeted earlier in its timeline.
Elevian, co-founded by Allen, physicians and researchers from Harvard, is trying to restore the human body's regenerative abilities in order to combat and prevent age-related disease.
The therapeutics were inspired by co-founder Amy Wagers' research at Stanford and Harvard University, looking into the circulating factors in the blood of a young mice that had a regenerative effect on several organs of an old mice. Wagers and her colleagues wanted to know what specifically in the blood was producing this rejuvenation effect, and they narrowed it down to a protein called GDF11.
At therapeutic doses, when the GDF11 protein is injected into older mice, it appears to regenerate skeletal muscle and other tissue. There's an optimal window in which the protein has the most beneficial effects. If the dose is too high, it has been reported to cause muscle wasting.
The researchers injected just that single protein once daily for 30 days into the aged animals and were able to reproduce the same effects as found in the continuous circulation of young blood in an old animal. They reported the results in a succession of journal articles in Cell and Science showing regenerative effects in the heart, the skeletal muscle, and the brain.
There is also data in humans suggesting that people who have an optimal range of GDF11 circulating in their blood have a lower risk of disease and death over a longitudinal study period.
Elevian is using a method to insert a gene into cells that will then allow them to produce the GDF11 protein. But because the protein is complex, it's very difficult to produce it in a cost-effective way. The protein also has a short half-life, so the therapeutic has to be injected on a daily basis. Allen said that this makes the treatment appealing only to those with fatal conditions. Elevian is working on a way to develop more convenient and cost-effective treatments. In the works is a pill that will stimulate the cell's natural production of this protein.
Elevian is currently catering their treatments to address patients with coronary artery disease and heart failures. They're also looking to treat age-related muscle dysfunction, where Allen says they're showing the therapeutic has a very significant effect.
So far, Elevian has secured $5.5M in seed funding to date from Bold Capital, led by founding Elevian investor Peter Diamandis (the founder of XPRIZE), WTI, Stanford StartX fund, Longevity fund, Kizoo Ventures, Thynk Capital, and other investors.
The team is planning to use the current funding to produce GDF11 in a cost effective way and develop a new molecule that can have similar effects in the body. Then they're looking to perform early pre-clinical trials and proof of concept with the new molecules.
"There's really a growing investment community interested in this field of therapeutics that target aging," Allen told Business Insider.
Elevian is now in the process of doing a much larger funding round to raise enough capital to take them through Investigational New Drug Applications for two to three different molecules with different indications.
As of now, Elevian is looking to enter clinical trials in two to three years, and bring a product to market in eight to 10 years.