Biotechs routinely highlight work that could lead to life-changing cures. Even by those standards, Epirium Bio’s mission sounds lofty.
The San Diego biotech aims to treat rare muscle disorders — and one day even slow or reverse diseases that largely stem from growing old. Think heart disease or Parkinson’s.
Boosting the ambitious goal, Epirium recently secured an $85 million Series A round, amid greater investment in muscle therapies.
Aging and muscular diseases share a commonality: the loss of mitochondria, or cells’ energy system. The company claims it discovered a hormone pathway to combat mitochondria depletion.
“Almost all so-called diseases of aging, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, heart failure and kidney failure, are in fact diseases in which mitochondria are lost in particular organs,” said George Schreiner, the company’s chief scientific officer.
Epirium’s origins can be traced to research from Schreiner and Sundeep Dugar, the company’s chief technology officer, and UC San Diego collaborators.
They were looking into a molecule called epicatechin, which is found in dark chocolate, berries and other foods linked to heart health. The researchers realized that epicatechin mimics a natural healing process in the body, one that’s central to mitochondria development.
Hormone Pathway Discovery
In search of what drives that process, Epirium honed in on the hormone pathway, which Epirium says will be identified in a soon-to-be published scientific paper.
“So we were not only involved in one of the most fundamental mechanisms of biology that one could imagine, but we also had stumbled into something that had never been discovered or studied,” said Schreiner.
It was 2012 by that point. Demonstrating this new type of biology and convincing skeptical investors took time, the company said.
ARCH Venture Partners and The Longevity Fund, two investors that have expressed a desire to tame or cure diseases associated with aging, took part in the Series A round.
Epirium isn’t the only anti-aging company to attract attention.
Others ‘Anti-Aging’ Cos.
Locally, Samumed emerged in 2016 with a mission of regenerating hair, skin and joints. It has raised more than $650 million since 2013.
Boston-based Life Biosciences last year hauled in a $50 million Series B round to continue research into therapeutics that combat age-related decline.
Despite the race for greater longevity heating up, Epirium for now is keeping its attention on three muscle-weakening diseases: Becker muscular dystrophy, Friedreich’s ataxia and Duchenne muscular dystrophy. The latter two can be fatal.
In proof-of-concept studies with 110 patients who took the company’s pill, results included improved muscle and heart function, and the treatment appeared safe, according to Schreiner, who declined to elaborate because the results haven’t been published yet. As a caveat, the company still has a long ways to go in clinical testing.