NewLimit, a 1.5-year-old, San Francisco-based, 17-person company that seeks to increase the number of healthy years in every person’s life through epigenetically reprogramming cells, today announced that it has raised $40 million in Series A funding from Dimension , Kleiner Perkins, Founders Fund, and other investors to continue its mission to extend people’s health and lives.
We spoke with two of the company’s four cofounders yesterday, including Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong and VC Blake Byers, who has a Stanford PhD in bioengineering. During that chat, we got more insight into the round, which also counts Coinbase cofounder Fred Ehrsam, Y Combinator President Garry Tan, and founder-investor Elad GIl as backers; we talked to them about how NewLimit can differentiate itself from rival companies. We also asked Armstrong about the inevitable comedies centered around billionaires trying to escape death by throwing money at it.
TC: Brian you have a job as CEO of Coinbase. Blake, you have a job running Byers Capital. Who runs NewLimit?
BA: There are four cofounders of the company. I’m just an investor and a board member. There are two other co-founders, Greg [Johnson] and Jacob [Kimmel] actually running the day-to-day business.
Are they co-CEOs or does the company bring in a full-time CEO?
BB: The company doesn’t technically have a full time CEO right now.
What is this?
BA: It’s still early stage and the current founding team is working hard, so we haven’t explained that yet.
But you’ve now raised $150 million so far, is that correct, and are you talking about the company’s valuation at this point?
BB: The $110 million from Brian and myself is a lifetime commitment to the company so it’s not fully funded, then this $40 million is another commitment from the VCs. So we have access to that capital over time, but it’s not necessarily the amount that’s in the bank. We are not [talking about the valuation].
An early news release says you will begin by interrogating epigenetic drivers of aging and developing products that can regenerate tissues to treat specific patient populations. First, to clarify, what are the specific drivers of aging you are talking about? Diet? Exercise? Bad day? Poisons?
BB: There are probably many drivers of aging. And we are not here trying to explain them all. It’s more like we’re saying, hey, we think epigenetics alone is a key factor in aging. And so by reprogramming the epigenetics of a cell, you can reverse a significant amount of the functional decline that we see with age. And our proof point is that you can take an old skin cell from an animal and you turn that into a newborn animal that has a completely normal life ahead of it. And then you can wait for the animal to grow up and get old and take one THIS old skin cells and turn that new born animal into a completely normal life ahead of it, with completely healthy skin.
There is actually a lab that has been doing that for over 13 generations [of mice] over 22 years, just one after another, one after another, all coming from that one parent cell — an old skin cell. And the mice all live normal lives. We don’t know if this will continue in humans and in different cell types, but this kind of shows you that there is something very powerful and powerful about the ability to just reprogram a skin cell or neuron. or the heart cell used. epigenetics, even if we don’t talk about what might be the other main cause of aging.
It brings to mind artificial egg technology and this idea or hope that even same-sex couples can have children if we can figure out how to turn any cell into an egg, which performed in male rats. What exactly is on your roadmap?
BB: Currently, the research stage of a company is very basic. We are trying to understand how these mechanisms work and how we can control the epigenetic state of cells and find these sets of transcription factors that can turn old cells into young cells. That’s what we do now before we make a product, and we start with an immune cell called T cells. The idea is that one day if we succeed, you can make the immune system of the elderly look younger, and more functional. We will also add other cell types. We still don’t know exactly what that is, but an example is liver cells, called hepatocytes, or brain cells, like neurons, where you can restore the function of these cells. in age.
NewLimit says it will use machine learning models to understand how these cells change with age. How do you create a moat on something like this, where you’re talking about troves of information about human cells, which isn’t a proprietary data set?
BB: I would say that the big difference in developing these general AI models with public data is, like, everybody has access to public data, including these big language models. For us, we have been training on public data and within two months, our models have been filled with how good they are, and now we have to generate data ourselves to improve the models even more. So there is a lot of cost and complexity [centers on] how you can create more data at home while still being very efficient.
How do you create your own data at home?
BB: We generate new scientific data ourselves by running experiments in our lab. What the experiments look like is we inject human transcription factors into human cells like T cells, and then we observe that cell and to see how it changes after we introduce the transcription factor. This is called an overexpression experiment. Then we do that with 100 different transcription factors, then with a combination of different transcription factors. And we measure everything we can about the cell, including how it changes gene expression in the cell and how it changes the epigenetics of the cell. And we use all that information to feed our machine learning models that tell us what to try next. So we have a bunch of human immune cells growing in labs that we insert these sets of transcription factors into, and that creates the data to train the models.
Where do these donor cells come from?
BB: T cells you get from blood draws, so it’s easy to access these types of donor draws.
Do you work in a hospital system?
BB: I don’t want to get into who [the sources] exactly, but it’s very basic in the industry. There are various groups that help provide blood draws to groups that work on research projects to develop medicines. And these are all authorized donors who know what their specimens are used for.
Is it possible to define at what point the data becomes meaningful?
BA: Well, there are something like 1700 transcription factors in the human body. And so if you take how many combinations of five transcription factors there are out of 1700, it’s about 10 to 10. So it’s a big number. You can imagine that this is the place to find different potential combinations. Does that help?
To some readers, hopefully! Before you leave those two, Brian, people often comment that billionaires keep trying to live longer because they can’t get their billions. What was your reaction?
My high-level thought is that if you’re making money in software, it’s good to put that money back into society in ways that help improve the human condition, and biotech research is one of those important areas. I don’t think it will get enough funding. If you look at all the major diseases that kill people – heart disease, cancer, diabetes, dementia – they are related to aging. In general, these are not diseases of the young. So it makes sense to me that we should try to find big ambitious problems in the world. And I think there’s actually a generation of tech billionaires – Sam Altman, Patrick Collison and a bunch of them – who are putting real capital into some of these tough problems in the world, and I think that should be celebrate.
One billionaire who thinks anti-aging research is dangerous is Elon Musk. He said this could lead to rapid aging of the population which would lead to a further decline in the birth rate and an extremely ossified society where new ideas would not succeed. What do you think about the potential harms of people living longer?
BA: I think it’s important that if people live longer — which, by the way, that’s a big if; there’s a lot of work ahead to see if that’s possible — that their minds remain plastic and they remain open to new ideas and things as well. So in an ideal world here in the future, there will be a way for us, in our bodies and our mind, to stay young.
BB: I would also point out that we have doubled the average human life span in the last 100 years. And I think everyone would agree that’s a good thing. Do we really want to go back? Do we think it is the best? Or do we want to keep improving it for people? I think the world is very stable. It’s a great thing to let people express themselves for longer periods of time and spend more time with the people they truly love in life.