Silicon Valley's Hottest Innovations 2016

When Aging is Fun

Unity Biotechnology wants to make the sunset years less painful through its discovery of senolytic medicine

Dawid Bilski

Unity Biotechnology“My parents used to always say “aging is beautiful. Look at your grandfather, isn’t it awesome?,” but in my mind I was saying like “This is bullshit…he is decaying and it can’t be awesome at all!” It’s a stupid thing for people to say because, in some sense, they lack the ability to change,” says Nathaniel David. It may sound like hyperbole, but the biochemist as the founder of Unity Biotechnology is indeed working towards making the sunset years a less painful and a pleasant phase of human life. For someone who set up three biotech ventures and tasted success, David terms his current venture as the “coolest biology experiment” he has ever worked on. But the serial entrepreneur’s journey into Unity was more accidental but, nonetheless, an exciting one.

David ventured out pretty young. When he was 18, he founded Syrrx, which was engaged in discovering compounds through protein crystallography. In 2005, Japanese drug major Takeda Pharmaceutical bought the company for $270 million. Three years later, Takeda launched a drug Alogliptin, an orally administered anti-diabetic drug that was developed by Syrrx. Currently, millions of people take the type II diabetes drug everyday. “At the grad school, we had this cool observation that allowed us to crystallise proteins in very small drops. That’s what we did at Syrrx, but it was more of a techie trick,” smiles David. After moving out of Syrxx, David co-founded Achaogen, an antibiotic company which is currently in phase three trials. Around the same time, he set up a Kythera, which created an injectable drug named Kybella for selective destruction of fat cells, primarily responsible for double chin. It was a big moment for David when the company got sold for $2.1 billion to Allergan last year. 

But it was in 2011, that David, enroute on a flight, came across a news report in The New York Times that two researchers Jan van Deursen, from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, and Judith Campisi, of the Buck Institute for Research on Aging, found senescent cells that could hold the secret to aging gracefully. Though exciting, the research was confined to mice but the researchers believed it held the recipe for human longevity as well. During


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