Aging is something that affects all of us, yet there are only a couple organizations in the world that are applying industrial scale to investigating the aging process. Today, we’re announcing the formation of NewLimit, a company co-founded by Brian Armstrong and Blake Byers with the mission of extending human healthspan.
NewLimit will start by deeply interrogating epigenetic drivers of aging and developing products that can regenerate tissues to treat specific patient populations. We will start by using primary human cells and reference species to develop machine learning models on what chromatin features change with age, which of these changes may be causal to the aging process, and finally develop therapies that could slow, halt, or reverse this process.
It is incredibly ambitious to try and "cure aging" and we believe this mission could take decades to achieve, if it is achievable at all, but that is precisely the reason we feel the urgency to get started today. The last decade has seen a cambrian explosion in the tools we have to probe and better understand biology. Forget just sequencing DNA. We can now sequence the DNA, RNA, and epigenetics of single cells, in an entire tissue, and retain the spatial representation of where the cells were. We can now track single proteins in real time as they shuttle around a cell and perform their tasks. These toolkits enable a four magnitude increase in feature space that we can leverage to better understand biological systems.
Fifteen years ago, a retrospectively obvious phenomenon was discovered: your cells are far more plastic than we had assumed. You can scrape a skin cell off your arm and reprogram it into a brain cell1. In fact, you can take a skin cell from an old mouse and clonally turn it into a newborn mouse with an entire life ahead of it2. Remarkably, to accomplish this magic, you only treat the cells with four types of proteins3. In a system as complex as mammalian biology, with billions of DNA base pairs and tens of thousands of proteins, all it takes is dosing four proteins for a couple weeks to completely change what the cell “is”. NewLimit plans to initially focus on this mechanism: epigenetic reprogramming. Put simply, we want to figure out a way to restore the regenerative potential we all had when we were younger, but somehow lost. The last year has emphasized this point on a global scale. We still do not know why the elderly have a weaker immune system and are more susceptible to infection and receive less protection from vaccines. You can go read all the textbooks and you won't find any satisfying answers.
What will differentiate NewLimit?
We believe everyone benefits from more companies, research labs, and funding flowing into aging research. We are excited to see more companies being formed in this space, to build a larger ecosystem.
The most unique thing about NewLimit will not be the idea or the capital we have access to. Instead it will be the people we hire and the culture we create. What differentiates SpaceX from NASA, or SpaceX from Blue Origin, is people and culture. We are not trying to build an institute or academic minded organization where papers are more important than products. Our goal is to build an ambitious, well run, for-profit company that will deliver revenue generating products on the way toward accomplishing its much bigger objective.
This is reflected in the background of the founders, who bring a mix of skill sets from software and biology, along with experience building successful companies. It will require incredible determination and execution to accomplish something so ambitious. You can read more about our company values here.
Why work on aging?
Some people have an aversion to the idea of living longer when they first hear about it. They are often imagining being frail in old age, and extending this unpleasant experience. The goal here is something quite different: extending human healthspan. Imagine if you could live the same number of years, but be free from pain, and have the same mobility and cognition as someone in their thirties. If we could maintain this state, how many of us would still want to have our lifespan end at the “normal” time? Aging is one of the largest sources of pain and suffering hiding in plain sight all around us, and we believe there is a moral imperative to try and end this suffering that affects every one of us.
Will this technology be accessible to all?
Yes. Every breakthrough product, from cell phones to electric cars, started out with breakthroughs in basic science, which led to expensive early prototypes. But the cost of these products were driven down over time, to the point where they are becoming accessible to everyone. Some of these products take decades to get to lower costs, but we hope to move much faster than that. An example of potential with the right scale: Two years ago, mRNA therapeutics packaged in lipid nano particles (LNPs) were a product only reserved for expensive gene therapies, but in 2021 over a billion people received an mRNA LNP to immunize them against COVID for less than $20 a dose.
How well capitalized is the company?
We've raised $105M initially from the founders to help get the company off the ground, with additional funding available upon reasonable progress. We expect capital will not be the limiting factor for the next few years. We may raise external funding as well down the road.
Who should join?
We are currently interviewing and hiring the founding team. We are looking to work with sharp, hungry people who want to do meaningful work and build a new type of biotech. The initial team will consist of scientific, clinical, and operations team members. We are open to working with bright people who are earlier in their career and have not become too entrenched in traditional ways of thinking.
If you know someone we should work with, or are excited about joining us on this mission, you can contact us here.
Brian and Blake
Vierbuchen, Thomas et al. “Direct conversion of fibroblasts to functional neurons by defined factors.” Nature vol. 463,7284 (2010): 1035-41. doi:10.1038/nature08797
Okita, K., Ichisaka, T. & Yamanaka, S. Generation of germline-competent induced pluripotent stem cells. Nature 448, 313–317 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature05934
For pioneering this induced pluripotent stem cell reprogramming technique, Shinya Yamanka was awarded the 2012 Nobel Prize in medicine. Other forms of reprogramming can require even fewer factors.