Biotech startups working in a new and credible field of clinical development only have a few years before large pharmaceutical companies take notice and begin to enter the arena. This shift in the competitive landscape is a good thing for patients, as a great deal more funding will be deployed to expand the space of possible therapies. Further, small companies with viable approaches are more likely to be acquired, increasing the odds that specific programs will continue through to clinical trials. It doesn’t solve the problem of the burdensome regulatory system that slows all progress, but it does improve the odds of pushing something through the present roadblocks in the path of progress.
As today’s news from Insilico Medicine indicates, this second phase of development, the interest of large pharmaceutical developers, is now underway for the field of senolytic therapies. These are treatments capable of producing rejuvenation via selective destruction of senescent cells in old tissues. Senescent cells secrete signals that disrupt tissue maintenance, structure, and function, generating chronic inflammation that accelerates the progression of aging. They are strongly implicated in the pathology of numerous age-related conditions. In mice, senolytic therapies have produced noteworthy examples of reversal of age-related disease. Biotech startups are presently working on approaches to senescent cell destruction: small molecules; immunotherapies; gene therapies; and so forth.
A few small human clinical trials of first generation senolytic drugs and supplements have taken place or are underway, awaiting publication of results. The results have been mixed. The dasatinib and quercetin combination looks promising for inflammatory lung disease and kidney disease, and has been confirmed to destroy senescent cells in humans in much the same way as it does in mice. A localized injection approach for osteoarthritis did not work, for reasons that are much discussed by the community – a poor choice of strategy, in that senescent cells throughout the body affect the inflammatory environment of joints, or a drug that doesn’t do as well in humans as in mice, perhaps.
Looking at the past five years of work on senolytics, one may guess that the amount of effort needed to get Big Pharma interested enough to participate in a new line of work amounts to a few hundred million dollars in venture investment, half a dozen phase I and phase II clinical trials, ten to twenty biotech startups, and a few IPOs either taken place or on the horizon. At that point executives and boards in the pharmaceutical giants start to ask whether there might be something worthy of attention in this new part of the biotech industry.
Insilico Medicine announced today that Taisho Pharmaceutical Co., Ltd. and Insilico have entered into a research collaboration to identify novel therapeutics against aging. Insilico Medicine will utilize both the target discovery and generative chemistry parts of its Pharma.AI platform in this collaboration. It will use its proprietary Pandomics Discovery Platform to identify novel targets for senolytic drugs and Chemistry42 platform for a molecular generation. This collaboration brings together Insilico’s state-of-art artificial intelligence (AI) technologies in drug discovery with Taisho’s expertise in drug development, aimed to extend the human healthspan.
“We’re delighted to collaborate with Taisho pharmaceutical, a well-recognized leader in the pharmaceutical industry and healthcare sector. It is believed that aging is a universal phenomenon that we cannot stop. However, emerging scientific evidence has shown that one may be able to reverse some of the age-associated processes. Through this collaboration, we will adopt our AI-powered drug discovery suites together with Taisho’s validation platform to explore the new space of anti-aging solutions.”
Under the terms of the agreement, Insilico Medicine will receive an upfront payment and milestone payments upon achievement of specified goals. Insilico Medicine will be responsible for early research phase target identification and molecular generation and Taisho will work collaboratively with Insilico in validating the results in various in vitro and in vivo assays. Taisho has the exclusive option to acquire Insilico’s co-ownership of the successfully developed programs under agreed payment.