Biotech

A star-studded biotech startup raised $3 billion to try and reverse diseases

Altos Labs wants to “safely reprogram” cells to combat disease—an ambitious and unproven goal.
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Altos Labs, a company aiming to “reverse disease” announced what might be the biggest-ever funding round for a biotech company this week. The company has raised $3 billion to begin building and staffing up large, academia-inspired labs that Stat reports “could easily involve hundreds of people.”

It’s unclear if the company’s goal—in part, to “safely reprogram” cells in order to reverse the damage caused by disease—is feasible. Since cell reprogramming involves literally changing the function of a cell from, say, fat to stem, it’s currently viewed as too dangerous to try on humans.

  • As Stat noted, much of the science Altos is based on has been tested only in mice, and at times, the astounding results have been accompanied by ugly outcomes; in one case, mice developed tumors.
  • But Altos has enlisted a star-studded cast of scientists, and marshalled billions of dollars, to try to get to the bottom of what’s possible.

The company is also adamant that it is not focused on turning back the biological clock, as has been suggested by initial reporting examining the desires of some of Altos Labs’ ultra-wealthy backers to combat aging. FWIW, Google created Calico Labs in 2013, a company explicitly dedicated to anti-aging research, and which was also extremely well-capitalized, with a reported $1.5 billion in the bank as of 2016.

"We’re not an aging company,” Richard Klausner, a successful biotech entrepreneur who is CEO and cofounder of Altos Labs, told Stat. “We’re certainly not a longevity company. We’re a disease reversal company, by programming cells in a variety of ways to have more optimal resilience.”

Big picture: Several biotech companies are already working on cell-reprogramming tech, but only time will tell if they’re able to bring viable products to market.

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