National Editor

Elixir Pharmaceuticals Inc. closed the second round of its Series B financing, adding $19 million from undisclosed new investors and bringing the total to $40.5 million for the company's research into age-related disease.

"We think [the total] will extend our runway to about two and a half years," said Peter DiStefano, chief scientific officer and vice president of research and development for Cambridge, Mass.-based Elixir.

Work is in the very early stages, and DiStefano said determining how soon a compound might be tested in humans is not easy.

"If everything went extremely well, we'd be looking at a two-year to four-year time frame," he told BioWorld Today.

The company targets conditions such as cancer and metabolic disease, investigating the Daf-2 and Sir-2 pathways. Two of the firm's founding scientists, Lenny Guarente of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Cynthia Kenyon of the University of California at San Francisco, have shown that simple changes to individual genes more than double the life span of yeast and nematode worms - to a degree equivalent to extending human life span to about 170 years. Others have since confirmed the findings. (See BioWorld Today, April 6, 2001.)

"We can't run out the door and say we're going to make people live twice as long as they normally do," DiStefano conceded. Instead, the company aims to modulate pathways and "forestall whatever it is that knocks people off. Instead of starting with a disease and making compounds to a target and coming back and testing them, we're starting out with aging."

The company has "many compounds from two of the programs being advanced. We're putting them into animal models now, and that's what the money is going to."

Another Elixir founder, Thomas Perls of the Boston University School of Medicine, concluded in his New England Centenarian Study that having a sibling who survives past 100 years increases one's own chance of living to 100 by a factor of 16, indicative of a strong human genetic basis for survival to extreme age.

Put those data together with yeast and worm models exploring the pathways and Elixir might be on to something. Investors seem to believe so. The first, $21.5 million round of the Series B closed in February and was led by MPM Capital LP, of Boston; Oxford Bioscience Partners, of Boston; and ARCH Venture Partners, of Chicago.

Put Elixir together with another company and the effort carries even more weight. Also in February, the company's all-stock merger of equals was completed with Centagenetix Inc., less than a mile away from Elixir in Cambridge. (See BioWorld Today, Jan. 14, 2003.)

"What people have bought into is the platform and the notion that we're going after aging mechanisms, defining new targets and pathways by aging rather than a disease itself," DiStefano said, adding that the combined company is seeking partners to advance the work further.