It may be the final frontier in medicine — slowing down or reversing the process of aging. Besides the promise of a longer life, it also means fortunes made — think Ponce de Leon and his search for the Fountain of Youth.

Biotech company Epirium is pursuing that holy grail of medical research. The San Diego company raised $85 million, led by Longitude Capital and ARCH Venture Partners to advance the clinical trial of its drug candidate. It will initially be tested to treat Becker muscular dystrophy, a genetic disease that weakens human muscles.

Aging is similar to muscular dystrophy, slowing down the mitochondrial replacement process. Epirium claims that its technology reverse the decline of mitochondrial function in aging and disease. 

“They made the investment not just because they think we can do something meaningful in Becker’s muscular dystrophy, but primarily because some of these larger diseases could benefit as well,” Epirium CEO Russell Cox told Endpoints. “There’s no question we will evolve.”

If a cure for some rare genetic disease is not appealing enough, the promise of anti-aging has grabbed private investors’ interests. PitchBook identifies 25 companies working on anti-aging technologies, and most are staying comfortably private. Only one company went public this year, compared to 3 in 2018. Alameda, CA-based AgeX Therapeutic, a two-year-old company focusing on tissue generation, filed its IPO for New York Stock Exchange trading last month. 

Venture capital spent $183 million on five deals this year, a 49% increase from last year. Epirium scored the largest fundraising this year, surpassed the $50 million series B of Life Biosciences, a Boston company tackling multiple pathways of age-related decline. Private equity is also investing. Samumed, another developer of tissue-level therapeutic drugs, scored $438 million private equity funding from an undisclosed investor last August, after amassing $326 million in venture capital investments since 2013. 

  • Epirium claims that it discovered a “novel pharmacological approach” to treat diseases caused by mitochondrial depletion and dysfunction. It has carried out proof-of-concept human studies, and is planning for the trial next year.
  • Mitochondria, found in most human cells, create energy as they break down nutrients. Healthy humans replace them every few weeks through mitochondrial biogenesis. The slowdown of the replacement process leads to the loss of motor skills such as walking, eating and talking.