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Five Alarm Bio has anti-ageing drug agenda firmly in its sights

Five Alarm Bio has emerged from stealth mid-way through a seed round which will put its anti-ageing agenda into clinical trials mode.

Babraham Research Campus
Babraham Research Campus

The drug testing company, which moved into lab space at Babraham Research Campus last month, has already made considerable progress in its mission to develop treatments for a range of age-associated diseases and disabilities.

Five Alarm Bio is progressing a therapeutic programme in sarcopenia and is evaluating its technology as a potential treatment for neuro-degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. In February this year, the company was awarded a Biomedical Catalyst grant from Innovate UK to drive the development of its technology as a treatment for chronic wounds.

Dr Janette Thomas, who has over 20 years’ experience in growing life science start-ups, joined as CEO in May. And the first phase of its seed round has seen participation from Cambridge investors Meltwind, o2h ventures, and Cambridge Angels.

All of this sits well with Dr Thomas, who is preparing to start the second phase of the seed round, which is expected to close in December.

“Five Alarm Bio was started by three entrepreneurs in 2016,” explains Dr Thomas. The trio – director Ann Baker, Sunil Shah of o2h ventures, and William Bains, now CSO – “did the early research then didn’t have any funding then got the grant that kickstarted everything”.

The £360k grant will take the company further towards clinical trials for its approach – a small molecule approach to boost the body’s defence against ageing, based on a new understanding of how the chemical damage associated with age accumulates in cells.

“The funding will take our programme in the treatment of chronic wounds forward,” Dr Thomas continues. “In March we collaborated with Magnitude Biosciences to test its technology in the worm C. elegans, showing a 40 per cent increase in healthspan in this well-tested model organism.”

Five Alarm Bio at Babraham Research Campus are, from left, William Bains, co-founder and chief scientific officer; Dr Janette Thomas, CEO; Pete Tyrer lead research scientist; and Sunhil Shah, co-founder. Picture: Keith Heppell
Five Alarm Bio at Babraham Research Campus are, from left, William Bains, co-founder and chief scientific officer; Dr Janette Thomas, CEO; Pete Tyrer lead research scientist; and Sunhil Shah, co-founder. Picture: Keith Heppell

Magnitude Biosciences, which is based in Stockton-on-Tees, is a leader in the provision of drug testing services using the model organism C. elegans, a millimetre-long nematode worm that has been used to make a number of breakthroughs in the biology of ageing. They have muscle, nerve, gut and other organs like larger animals, but can live in a petri dish and they age fast, staying healthy for only a week or two.

Magnitude’s technology tracks the movement of the worms, an accurate measure of their health. As they age their movement declines, reflecting their active, healthy lifespan or ‘healthspan’. Magnitude showed that Five Alarm Bio’s test compound, FAB001, made a five-day old worm move as easily as a 3¾-day old worm which, in human terms, would make a 60-year old feel like they were only 45.

“We’ll come up with a treatment,” adds Dr Thomas, “then it will go into clinical trials, and we will either develop the drug treatment ourselves or sell to pharma. It will be a case-by-case process.”

Studying the interactions on the molecular pathway reveals the changes in the cell: these changes can trigger the assembly of new molecules, such as a fat or protein. Pathways can also turn genes on and off, or spur a cell to move.

“We design chemicals around that pathway and find new molecules on the pathway. The pathway works to improve the healthy lifespan of cells and FAB001 is one, and we are now looking for others.

“We look at damage accumulated with ageing and what no longer works when we can’t keep ourselves healthy. We’re looking to slow disease or cure diseases such as chronic wounds or Alzheimer’s. We’re not looking to cure ageing but to give people a healthy lifespan.”

Having moved into its “lovely purpose-built office with a purpose-built lab” at Babraham, Five Alarm Bio has hired two people and needs one more.

“The seed round – we’re raising up to £600k and so far have got more than half of that – would give us two years’ money. We need two years to do the early research and then we raise money for treatments.”

The market for anti-ageing products was valued at $60bn last year and is expected to be $120bn by 2030.

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