The aging population is increasing, as is the associated health-care burden. According to the World Health Organization, there will be 2.1 billion people aged older than 60 years worldwide by 2050, with more than half suffering from age-related diseases. These include hearing and sight loss, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, cardiovascular and respiratory disease, falls, urinary incontinence, diabetes, depression and dementia.
In 2013, Carlos López-Otín of the Instituto Universitario de Oncología (IUOPA) in Spain published a paper on the nine hallmarks of aging: genomic instability, telomere attrition, epigenetic alterations, loss of proteostasis, deregulated nutrient sensing, mitochondrial dysfunction, cellular senescence, stem cell exhaustion and altered intercellular communication.
“The hallmarks of aging paper triggered a lot of research into deterioration mechanisms involved in aging,” said Matthias Steger, Rejuveron’s co-founder & CEO. “It provided Rejuveron with a roadmap to discover therapies that will help people to age better.”
Bringing innovative science to aging
Rejuveron, based in Zürich, Switzerland, and founded in 2019, is an integrated biotechnology company that aims to deliver innovative therapies and technologies to promote healthy aging and help people to live longer and healthier lives. As well as improving quality of life, this should reduce the burden on health-care systems and allow people to continue to contribute socially and financially to society.
“We are science-driven, and our goal is to help scientists to develop their ideas in a supportive environment,” said Steger. “We are looking for people with a deep understanding of recent scientific discoveries in aging, and the curiosity to translate their ideas into therapeutics. They don’t have to understand the drug development process—Rejuveron’s platform model provides this—they just need to want to develop their science to the next level.”
Like many incubators, Rejuveron provides startup companies with access to state-of-the-art laboratory space, as well as business development, financial, legal and admin services. What makes it different is that Rejuveron co-founds the companies with world-class scientific entrepreneurs, and provides links to scientists, clinicians and drug discovery experts and consultants.
“Rejuveron’s subsidiary companies are based on the same floor. This means that people work alongside each other, building their opportunities for networking and collaboration,” said Steger. “I think of this like an industrial university environment.”
Rather than bringing in outside financing, Rejuveron, supported by its series B round in the second half of 2021, will provide funding for the subsidiary companies through to clinical proof-of-concept.
“Biotech entrepreneurs spend 80% of their time fundraising; I want to take this burden away, to allow them to focus on research,” said Steger.
Building a portfolio
Endogena Therapeutics, founded by Steger in 2016 and now a Rejuveron portfolio company, focuses on small-molecule endogenous regenerative medicine for common degenerative diseases. These trigger adult stem and progenitor cells to repair the tissues.“We started with retinitis pigmentosa, which is a group of heterogenous genetic diseases causing gradual vision loss that mimics accelerated aging. There are very limited treatment options currently available,” said Steger.
Rejuveron subsidiary Rejuvenate Biomed’s lead product, RJx-01, is in development for the treatment of the muscle-wasting disease, sarcopenia. The product combines two existing compounds, and is expected to go into clinical trials in early 2022.
“Sarcopenia is often correlated with osteoporosis. A fall leading to a broken bone can worsen the loss of muscle mass. This in turn leads to further falls and breaks. If we can delay the onset of the cycle, people can live both healthier and longer lives,” said Steger.
Rejuveron’s other portfolio companies include Rejuveron Senescence Therapeutics, developing antibodies to target and clear senescent cells, and Rejuveron Vascular Therapeutics, which aims to slow down and reverse the damage to brain vasculature.
Vision for the future
The goal is to have subsidiaries in most or all of the areas of the hallmarks of aging by the end of 2022. Post-2025, Rejuveron plans to have a fully integrated incubator platform, with drugs moving from concept to market. By then, the company hopes to focus on increasing healthspan—the amount of time a person remains healthy—and promoting longevity, rather than simply treating age-related diseases. Some of the portfolio companies may licence out or partner projects, and some may go as trade sales to larger biopharma companies.
“Our aim is to take therapeutics in disease areas with high unmet medical need through to proof-of-concept. What we learn will allow us to prevent and treat a broader range of age-related diseases,” said Steger.