- Altos Labs raised about £231 million ($270 million) to develop biological reprogramming technology that could rejuvenate cells.
- 2012 Nobel Prize recipient, Shinya Yamanaka will chair the startup’s scientific advisory board.
- Incorporated in the UK and the US earlier this year, the lab is backed by investments from Yuri Milner and Jeff Bezos.
Altos Labs, a startup that works on reversing biological aging, plans to open a Cambridge UK-based research lab. The company is funded by Amazon’s founder Jeff Bezos and has raised about £231 million ($270 million) to develop biological reprogramming technology that could rejuvenate cells. The private company funding would enable Altos Labs to conduct curiosity-driven research and provide the company with the freedom to conduct rejuvenation related research.
According to the MIT Technology Review, the lab was incorporated in the UK and the US earlier this year and is backed by investments from billionaires such as Facebook investor Yuri Milner, and Jeff Bezos. The startup also plans to establish research centres in San Francisco and Japan to develop technology that can revitalise animals, rejuvenate cells and prolong life. Some scientists also believe that the technology could be used to revitalise the entire animal body and prolong human life.
The research squad
The 2012 Nobel Prize recipient for the discovery of reprogramming - Shinya Yamanaka, will chair the startup’s scientific advisory board. Yamanaka discovered that an extra four proteins can be used to programme the cells to revert to a primitive state that expresses the properties of embryonic stem cells.
Altos Labs has been hiring several leading longevity researchers to develop a radical form of biological reprogramming technology that would aid in rejuvenating cells and enable an increase in human lifespan by about 50 years.
Altos’ scientist Manuel Serrano’s past research work includes genetically engineering mice aimed at reversing their biological age. He has also been engaged in conducting successful experiments to revert the cells in the mice to an embryonic stage, which unfortunately developed tumours.
A Spanish scientist Carlos Izpisua Belmonte will join Altos, who conducted similar experiments on living mice, to achieve signs of age reversal that led him to reprogramme a potential "elixir of life". He has predicted that the human lifespan could be enhanced by 50 years. However, his experiments on some mice revealed that although their tissues became younger, others developed embryonic teratomas, which may be cancerous.
Steve Horvath, a professor at UCLA and the developer of a "biological clock" that can measure human aging and the efficacy of any age-reversal drug developed, would also join the team of researchers at Altos.
In the initial period, Altos will be paying researchers huge million-dollar annual salaries around £720,000 ($1 million), with no immediate expectation for revenues or product launches.
Other companies engaged in cell reprogramming research
Other new startups have been exploring reprogramming technology, including Shift Bioscience, based in the UK. However, the company’s research has not yet led to the development of any treatment suitable for testing on humans in clinical trials.
Another lab, Calico Labs, founded in 2013 by Google’s co-founder Larry Page, is also running a reprogramming laboratory. PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel funded Unity Biotechnology based in San Francisco is also engaged in cell reprogramming technology research. Bezos had previously invested in Unity Biotechnology.
Other noteworthy research on reprogramming technology
David Sinclair, a Harvard University researcher, reported restoring sight in live mice using reprogramming technology. He believes that using the technology for prolonging the human lifespan is uniquely promising and is working on rejuvenation of the major tissues and organs of the body, such as the brain, muscle, and skin.
Alejandro Ocampo, a former researcher at Izpisua Belmonte's lab, revealed that the reprogramming technology could be used to extract a cell from an 80-year-old and reverse the age by 40 years in vitro. The research was, however, has been termed "risky".
Reprogramming may be too dangerous to be tested on humans without adequate research as adding proteins to make cells act younger and may change their identity and for instance turn a skin cell into a stem cell. Altos Labs’ future research aims to be based on how the reprogramming technology can be tailored for safe use to rejuvenate animals without killing them and if the process can be carried out along with ordinary drugs, in place of using genetic engineering technology.