MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif., Nov. 14, 2019 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — Underdog Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (Underdog), and SENS Research Foundation (SRF) today announced the launch of Underdog and the completion of its seed round, providing $3.95 million to promote Underdog’s development of disease-modifying treatments for atherosclerosis and other age-related diseases. SRF also announced two senior appointments.
The Underdog round is led by Michael Greve’s Kizoo Technology Capital, part of the Forever Healthy Group and one of the premier organizations focusing on accelerating rejuvenation biotechnologies. It also includes Oculus co-founder Michael Antonov through Tubus, LLC, and financier Harald McPike through Chambray Worldwide, Ltd.
Underdog was built from an SRF flagship program that has driven two years of applied development designed to explore and repair the underlying causes of cardiovascular disease. Its co-founders are Matthew O’Connor, Ph.D. and Michael Kope, formerly the V.P. of Research and the founding CEO, respectively, of SRF.
“We’ve taken a well-known and extremely safe compound,” said O’Connor, “and have created novel derivatives that can specifically target the toxic biomolecule that drives the development of atherosclerosis, the cause of most heart attacks and strokes.”
Underdog’s research has combined computational and synthetic chemistry programs to create custom-engineered cyclodextrins (polysaccharides with known industrial and pharmaceutical excipient uses) to capture, and remove from cells, oxidized cholesterol derivatives such as 7-ketocholesterol, which are broadly toxic molecules with no known biological function. “Underdog will take a classic pharmaceutical approach and use it to attack the root causes of cardiovascular disease,” said Kope. “If we’re successful, we won’t just be ameliorating the disease, but reversing it.”
Underdog’s advisors include world-renowned cyclodextrin expert Dr. Lajos Szente. “This elegant approach has the potential to be truly revolutionary,” Szente said. “I’m delighted to be working with them on this important advancement in the field.”
“I came to Aubrey de Grey years ago so that we could work together to accelerate the availability of human rejuvenation therapies,” said Greve. “I am proud to help SRF grow a flagship research program into a genuine company and to help unlock the required capital to develop a true rejuvenation therapy. I’m gratified that we’ve done this while continuing to allow for the health and growth of SRF itself, one of our most important engines for the rejuvenation pipeline.”
The agreement between the organizations will provide equity, royalties, and milestones for the future support of SRF programs.
As Underdog spins out, the V.P. of Research position at SRF has been assumed by Prof. Alexandra Stolzing. Stolzing, a long-standing SRF Research Advisory Board member, received her PhD from the Humboldt University in Berlin, was a postdoctoral fellow at Sheffield University, UK, group leader at the Fraunhofer Institute for Cell Therapy and Immunology, Germany, and then Professor for Biogerontological Engineering at Loughborough University, UK. With over 70 peer-reviewed publications, she has participated in several international research consortia in areas including regenerative medicine, cell and gene therapy development, and neurodegenerative diseases. Her industry experience includes startup CSO and VP of Research roles. Said Stolzing, “I’ve always been passionate about translational research in aging, and I’m very excited to join SRF, where I look forward to translating SRF’s basic science projects, initiating new projects, and helping generate the next wave of healthspan spinouts.”
Science and technology investor and longtime SRF board member Jim O’Neill has stepped in to lead the SENS Research Foundation as interim CEO. He will also spearhead the search for the incoming permanent CEO. O’Neill has advised, invested in, and nurtured more than sixty science and technology companies. While running the Thiel Foundation, he co-founded the Thiel Fellowship and helped create deep science fund Breakout Labs. Previously, he helped lead the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as the principal associate deputy secretary, where he was responsible for overseeing policy and regulations at NIH, FDA, and CDC and led two major reforms of FDA. He supported the creation of the Armed Forces Institute for Regenerative Medicine, served on the steering committee of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, and represented the United States on the U.S. delegation to the World Health Assembly. “Over the past decade, Mike and Aubrey built a team of scientists dedicated to damage repair and turned skeptics into advocates along the way,” said O’Neill. “The growing interest in technologies that can reverse aging is proof of their vision and determination. I’m excited to advance SRF’s vision to bring the benefits of such technologies to the public.”
“This is an historic moment for SENS Research Foundation,” said Dr. Aubrey de Grey, co-founder and Chief Science Officer of SRF. “Underdog may well become one of the most significant endeavors in the rejuvenation biotechnology industry, and Mike and Oki are the perfect team to make it a success. And with Jim’s deep experience in investment and policy, and Alex’s brilliance in research and teaching, I’ve no doubt our mission is in good hands. I’m delighted to have their leadership and expertise at SRF.”