Novato’s Buck Institute starts Unity Biotechnology venture

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The Buck Institute for Research on Aging in Novato on Feb. 3 launched a startup called Unity Biotechnology First Company.

The new company, co-founded by Buck faculty member Judith Campisi, aims to develop medicines to treat age-related diseases and boost healthy lifespans.

Unity Biotechnology has initial funding from venture investor ARCH Venture Partners, with additional funding from Venrock, WuXSi, Mayo Clinic and Unity’s management team. The company will initially look for products to treat cellular senescence, the breakdown of cells that many scientists see as a contributor to aging. Campisi specialized in such research over the past 20 years.

Her lab discovered that senescent cells stop dividing in response to stress and secrete damaging substances that cause tissue damage and chronic inflammation. Surrounding tissue is then vulnerable to arthritis, atherosclerosis and cancer. She experimented with periodic clearing of senescent cells as a strategy to extend lifespan and ward off tumors in mice.

“It’s extremely gratifying and exciting to have Unity formally launch,” Campisi said in a statement. “Unity has enormous potential to change the way we approach diseases of aging.”

She plans to approach aging diseases as largely preventable or curable, rather than treating symptoms of disease.

The startup’s CEO is Nathaniel David, also a co-founder.

“It’s an honor to work with her and the Unity team to translate her insights into medicines,” David said. “It’s edifying to see labs around the world studying the implications of cellular senescence.”

Other co-founders include Jan van Deursen of Mayo Clinic College of Medicine, and Daohong Zhou of University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. Both have done research on cellular senescence.

Unity Biotechnology, housed at the Buck Institute campus, owns patents by some of its co-founders. David was formerly chief scientific officer for Kythera and co-founded four other biotechnology companies that raised more than $1.5 billion.

The Buck Institute, overseen by CEO Brian Kennedy, has a budget of about $37 million.

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