Robust people are much less likely to die of easily treated diseases in their youth today; other issues have arisen and attracted the attention of the LongeVC venture capital fund. Specifically, the fact that people suffer from age-related problems. These are often oncological and other diseases.
"Longevity is the hottest field in biotechnology right now," LongeVC partner Sergejs Jakimovs says.
Preventive and timely treatment is key here: treating oncological diseases as early as possible increases the chance of easier recovery, survival and high quality of life. The later you discover an oncological disease, the harder and more traumatic the treatment.
While it may sound a little clichéd, the main goal of the fund is to improve people’s life. Obviously, every venture capital fund seeks to earn profit, but LongeVC sees its primary purpose specifically in helping revolutionary longevity technologies develop.
"If we don’t have the intellectual capacity to deliver a cure to Alzheimer’s disease to the world, we can approach the problem from a different direction, and provide the people who do have that capacity with resources. All in all, we’re combining forces," Sergejs says.
The future belongs to biotech
LongeVC believes that the future belongs to the field of biotechnology. This is why its founders decided to set up a specialised venture capital fund worth 35 million euros, which it invests specifically in longevity start-ups. The fund focuses on businesses that develop therapeutics, as well as diagnostic devices, biomarkers etc. It invests 500 thousand to 1.5 million euros during the first round, and can increase this figure to 2.3 million during the second.
LongeVC has so far invested in Insilico Medicine, Longenesis, Basepaws, Petsensus and Deep Longevity.
"Our fund is very unique for its industry. No other fund has had such a powerful council," Jakimovs points out.
The fund invests in technologies that could enter the market within the coming three to seven years. LongeVC mainly focuses on US companies.
"Most of the intellectual property associated with biotech originates in research centres in the US. It is they who sell exclusive licences and form spin-offs with high-level specialists. Creating a pharmaceutical company to develop new molecules from scratch would be very difficult in Latvia, and investors in the industry are incredibly picky about what country the team in question is working in,’ Jakimovs says.
Life sciences and biotech need very powerful foundations, with research institutes, venture capital funds, and angel investors to provide funding for such endeavours. As an example, Jakimovs mentioned that some 500 angel investors and just as many venture capital funds orbited around Stanford. And whenever a spin-off shows up, they line up for an opportunity to invest in it.
"Getting funding for projects created in Latvia is far more difficult. No one understands what you’re doing, and if they do understand, you’re told to come back again in 12 years, once you achieve certain development indicators," Sergejs points out.
The fund also has a pre-acceleration program. It works in a way that is different from typical acceleration programmes with a specific beginning that end with admitting a certain number of companies. LongeVC works with teams in their very early stages, on an individual basis.
The long game
The team has also set up a Longevity Science Foundation non-profit. It is based in Switzerland, and has a goal of supporting longevity projects in their very early stages.
"When we created LongeVC, we noticed that many projects never reached the stage, at which an investor would be prepared to provide them with funding. Many promising ideas die out just because they don’t get the early financing they need, usually in the form of grants. The availability of such funding is asymmetrical, as it often goes to various research institutes etc. The result is that smaller research projects don’t get any money," Jakimovs says. Longevity Science Foundation invests up to one million euros per project.
The goal of this organisation is also to support projects that could radically improve people’s lives in the very near future.
"We want to get average life expectancy to 120 years. And it’s not something we cannot achieve. I look forward to my generation getting to see this. We can hope that the coming years will bring revolutionary changes in the diagnostics and treatment of age-related diseases, and it’ll be much harder for our generation to, for example, die of cancer," he says.
Jakimovs reveals that initially, his interested was not in life science, but in the commercialisation of complex intellectual property. This is how he became acquainted with life sciences, and set up the medical tech start-up Koatum. It develops a multi-layer coating intended for people with various health problems and needs who get an implant: the coating helps the implants take without creating new problems. Currently the start-up is focusing on people with diabetes,
osteoporosis and cardiovascular diseases.
The project gave Jakimovs and his team an understanding of how the life science industry operates, how a product enters the market, how technologies are validated, and how research takes place. Simultaneously with the development of Koatum, he helped other medical tech companies, mostly located in the United Kingdom, through their early stages: formulating the strategy for protecting their intellectual property during pre-clinical research, as well as other aspects that help attract investors.
Koatum provided the knowledge of the difficulties associated with organising clinical trials, which then led to the creation of Longenesis. This start-up provides assistance in organising clinical trials faster, finding more success in attracting clients, collecting data correctly, and ensuring that the patient is in charge of their personal data, and consents to their use.
Jakimovs and Emīls Sjundjukovs work in both of the companies. The other co-founders are different in each of them. For example, the Longenesis team also includes Bitfurry and Insilico Medicine.
"Longenesis and Koatum are two radically different businesses: Longenesis is a software and digital health project, while Koatum makes a specific coating for implants," Sergejs maintains.
This article by Anda Asere from Labs of Latvia, also appears in the latest edition of Baltic Business Quarterly, published by the German-Baltic Chamber of Commerce, and appears here by kind permission.