The dramatic increase in average life expectancy during the 20th century ranks as one of society’s greatest achievements. Longer lives brings opportunities, both on an individual level and for society as a whole, but is heavily dependent on one factor: health. As a person ages, the immune system weakens, organs begin to deteriorate and the body becomes susceptible to a variety of diseases. Examples of these so-called age-related diseases include cardiovascular disease, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. Of the approximately 150,000 people who die each day across the globe, about two thirds die of age-related causes. In industrialized nations, this number can reach as high as 90%.
The Oxford, UK-based startup OxStem is designing stem cell drugs to treat currently untreatable age-related conditions, and aim to switch on the body’s natural regeneration and repair systems. Current stem cell treatments mostly focus on injection of cells into the body and are available only in hospitals that can harvest, isolate and multiply stem cells. OxStem on the other hand plans to reprogram stem and stem-like progenitor cells that already exist in the body with no need for cell transplantation procedures.
OxStem is acting as a parent holding company, which will spin-out and fund the development of a series of daughter companies, or “Stems”, that each will focus on a large unmet therapeutic need within different organ systems. Currently, the startup is targeting seven therapies which will spin-out as each research programs progresses beyond the proof-of-concept stage. Their most advanced programs are OxStem Oncology, OxStem Cardio, OxStem Neuro and OxStem Ocular, focusing on applying the stem cell technology to develop therapies for therapy-resistant cancers, cardiac failure, neurodegenerative diseases, and macular degeneration.
The increase in life expectancy, caused by the transition from high to low mortality and fertility, has meant a shift in the leading causes of disease and death. From a gradual decrease in infectious and acute diseases, we have witnessed an emerging importance of degenerative diseases. Currently, there are few treatment options and a high unmet medical need. OxStem is developing a disruptive approach that could potentially treat a wide range of untreatable age-related conditions. Millions around the world live with dementia, cancer, macular degeneration, and other age-related diseases, and OxStem give these patient groups new hope and potentially improved quality of life. In addition, the novel delivery compared to current stem cell treatments also mean a possible increase in access, and if reasonably priced, even to low-resource settings.
OxStem was recently selected as the winners of the Best Biotech Startup of 2016 at the OBN Awards, an annual event celebrating innovation and achievement across the UK life sciences. Earlier in 2016, the startup also announced they had raised close to $25 million, and established strategic partnerships with world class biotech companies. The round was led by Human Longevity, their CEO J. Craig Venter, along with the team of Bob Duggan and Mahkam Zanganeh, Oxford Sciences Innovation and a number of international individuals. The funding will primarily be used for the development of preclinical small molecule drug candidates.