Centagenetix Inc. recently was on the receiving end of an onslaught of national media attention after its co-founders pinpointed a region on human chromosome 4 that is likely to contain a gene or genes associated with extraordinary longevity.
The founders' findings were published in the Aug. 28 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and the news made headlines across the country.
Centagenetix co-founders Thomas Perls, Louis Kunkel and Annibale Puca made the discovery on chromosome 4 in their laboratories at Harvard University. The privately held Boston-based company was founded in May.
Currently, the company is operating on a bridge loan from MPM Capital, although it has a commitment of $5 million pending the execution of licenses with Harvard.
"That will be the milestone that kicks us into Series A," said CEO Carl Weissman, who joined the company July 1.
The $5 million will take Centagenetix 12 to 18 months forward and enable it to move ahead with two key initiatives: enrolling participants in its centenarian study, in which it is studying people who live past 100, and to enlarge its Ideal Genome database, which will contain data on studies of specific genes that affect age-related diseases. The company, which currently has four employees, has plans to build out a complete team in R&D, research study recruitment, administration and management.
"It will also enable us to locate the [longevity] genes in chromosome 4," Weissman said.
For example, anticipating that the published findings would generate interest in its continued study of centenarians, the company set up a phone bank with a toll-free number to accept calls from individuals who wanted to participate. Weissman estimated it received 150 qualified participants from the phone banks alone. Centagenetix also expects to have access to a study on New England centenarians.
Weissman said that there are three different avenues by which the company can generate revenues. First, Weissman said, Centagenetix expects to identify two types of genes: those directly related to longevity and those genes that prevent an individual from being predisposed to an illness.
Second, the Ideal Genome database, for which the company has applied for a trademark, should be a revenue producer for the company in that this database would be of interest to other biotech companies. The company said that this Ideal Genome could prove to be a key tool in the discovery, identification and study of specific genes associated with the diseases associated with aging, including cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer's disease and certain types of cancers.
"Our database would be the ideal control group," Weissman said.
A second strategy available to the company would be to identify biotechnology and pharmaceutical partners that have interest in drugs related to aging, and partner with those companies to search for the genes, Weissman said.
The third strategy would be for Centagenetix itself to determine and identify the genes linked directly to longevity and to study the function related to those genes, he said.
The company is in discussions regarding collaborations, but Weissman would not reveal potential partners.
"We have definitely received a ton of interest," he said.
Any strategy beyond the 18-month time frame is contingent on the quality of the findings that the company makes in the meantime.
"[We will] raise another round, particularly if we haven't found a way to be cash-flow positive," said Weissman, who noted that the company is in its early stages and not at the point of closing off any options that could be pursued.