Investor attention on the industry dubbed “the Biggest and Most Complex Industry in Human History” is growing rapidly. Ahead of London Longevity Week (11-15 November 2019, further details at https://thelongevityforum.com/the-longevity-week/), James Lawford Davies and Michael Corcoran, Partners in Hill Dickinson’s Life Sciences group, look at recent growth in investment for Longevity companies and the continued market focus on the industry’s potential for 2020.
Longevity companies are in the business of finding ways for people to live longer, healthier lives – whether by slowing, stopping or potentially reversing the ageing process. Ageing research and regenerative medicine is expected to grow into a multi-trillion dollar industry over the next few years, and it has now grasped the attention of investors, regulators and governments worldwide. Aside from the obvious benefits of adding additional healthy years onto our lifespans, greater longevity will mean people live and work longer, having significant societal implications that policy makers and social scientists are now having to address.
As in all areas of medical research, clinical trials of new therapies and products require significant funding over a considerable period of time. In this first of a series of articles, we discuss the current trends and our predictions for the future.
Back to the future: longevity science and technology has arrived
The market for investing in longevity has evolved significantly in recent years and it looks likely that 2020 will be the breakout year for capital investment globally in the industry. Venture capitalists are lining up to lead early-stage funding rounds with huge interest, not just on the West Coast of the US (where the longevity industry has its spiritual home), but globally – notably in China and Russia. Investor appetite for longevity-focused companies is borne out by the frequency and size of Series A and Series B funding rounds completed in 2019. The success of early clinical trials completed at the Mayo Clinic utilising senolytic drugs has only added fuel to the fire, such that we may indeed be nearing the point where we can truly interfere in the ageing process in humans. There are, however, a number of other reasons for this trend, including:
- The last 3-5 years have witnessed the launch of a number of longevity-focused funds, taking a portfolio approach to longevity investment. By developing a portfolio of longevity investments, these funds hedge their risk across a number of promising longevity start-ups, thereby increasing their chances of success. In this vein, Juvenescence has created its ‘longevity-ecosystem’ and now has 15 independent pre-clinical programmes. It successfully raised $50 million in a Series A financing round in 2018 and recently closed a $100m Series B round. Other longevity funds (including The Longevity Fund, Longevity Vision Fund, Kizoo Technology Ventures and Felicis Ventures) have raised capital and in so doing allowed investors to access some of the best early stage deals globally. Investment in this space is no longer the preserve of West Coast venture capital.
- High-profile success stories and public listings have further demonstrated the potential of longevity companies to create enormous shareholder value (particularly for early investors). Unity Biotechnology, a company specialising in senolytics launched an IPO at nearly unicorn valuation and raised $85 million exemplifying the trend between technological advances and investor interest.
- Progress in basic science and research into ageing and age-related disease, together with the growing competition within the life science sector, has led to an improved understanding of the ageing process and the causes of disease. A consequence of this is that the rate of progress in the industry has accelerated and there have been notable advances in technology. For example, the advances in ageing biomarkers or “ageing clocks” now make it possible to measure the rate of ageing in humans and conduct clinical studies without the need to wait until the end of life. Real results are beginning to convince investors this is a sector worth taking seriously and likely to grow considerably in the coming years.
- Google’s interest in the area has helped to generate publicity and interest in longevity. Its sister company Calico made the cover of Time magazine when it was set-up in 2013 with the goal of combating ageing and associated diseases. Its 150 employees are currently working on a US$2.5 billion collaboration with US pharmaceutical company AbbVie, in Calico’s labs in San Francisco, the largest known research project looking at lifespan extension.
- A series of mega-deals in 2018 sparked the wider attention of investors to the potential of the industry and has helped bolster investor confidence. Samumed raised US$438 million in a financing round in August 2018 and Celularity raised US$210 million in a February 2018 Series A round.
Looking to the future
Akin to the PC industry in the early 80s, or the internet in the 90s, Jim Mellon of Juvenescence claims we are at the internet dial-up phase of longevity biotechnology. Investors have an opportunity to cash in at the front end of a huge upward curve. In the short-term, we will see companies progress through their seed and Series A-D rounds, after which some will go public with IPOs. Juvenescence announced recently that they would shortly be initiating their crossover round, with the intention of going public (on NASDAQ) in the second half of 2020. Mellon predicts a proliferation of longevity-focused funds will form in the next few years, foreseeing that the current 10 or so longevity-focused funds will multiply into the thousands within a decade.
The popularity in the space seems to have recently gained traction with the UK government too: Juvenescence recently visited No. 10 to discuss the topic of longevity with a group of industry experts. This meeting is in-line with the development of the Government’s national Healthy Longevity development strategy. The All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for longevity launched in May 2019 plans to produce the draft National Strategy by early 2020. This Strategy will set out what the United Kingdom needs to do to meet the goal set by the Government of five more years of healthy life expectancy by 2035. The health secretary Matt Hancock said that the APPG will allow the government to deliver the dream of longer, healthier lives and at the same time close the large social gap in healthy life expectancy.
The newly formed UK Longevity Council, which is co-chaired by Matt Hancock and business leader and industry expert Andy Briggs, will advise how best to use innovations in technology, products and services to improve the lives of our ageing population. The Government has also backed the Ageing Society Grand Challenge, which will run competitions for a £98 million fund to develop products and services that will help people live better and more independent lives as they grow older.
Hill Dickinson: life, longevity and the law
Hill Dickinson acts for a number of longevity focused companies and is a sponsor of London Longevity Week [11-15 November 2019 (further details at https://thelongevityforum.com/the-longevity-week/)]. Hill Dickinson’s Life Sciences team provides practical, commercial legal advice to clients at all stages of development, from start-up to established multi-national. We support clients from an idea in a lab, to helping incorporate the company, raising capital, protecting and licencing intellectual property, signing strategic partnerships and, ultimately, commercialising life-changing treatments and technologies. We also help clients navigate a legal landscape that is continuously evolving in response to innovation as well as societal, regulatory and ethical challenges. Our integrated team provides high-quality, trusted advice to some of the world’s leading life sciences companies. Areas of expertise in which we work include healthtech (including AI), pharma, IVF, embryo research, medical cannabis, cell and gene therapies, and genomics.