This summer, one of the largest players in longevity medicine got a lot larger. In late June, biogerontology research firm Calico and pharmaceutical behemoth AbbVie extended a research and development agreement initiated in 2014, adding $1 billion to bring their total commitment to $2.5 billion.
Calico, established in 2013 with just ten employees, has grown its research team to around 150 scientists based in South San Francisco. It is a subsidiary of Alphabet, making it a sibling of a small internet search company based in nearby Mountain View. The same year that Calico was founded, AbbVie spun off from Abbott Laboratories as a research-based pharmaceutical manufacturer. It now has a market cap in excess of $28 billion and employs nearly 30,000 people worldwide.
The collaboration between the two companies aims to develop drugs against aging-related illnesses, including various kinds of neurodegeneration and cancer. Under the terms of the agreement, Calico is responsible for fundamental research on aging, as well as early identification and development of drug leads; eventually, it will also run early-stage clinical trials up to Phase IIa. On its end, AbbVie will contribute its expertise and infrastructure in manufacturing, run Phase III trials, and manage commercialization of drugs that show promise in the clinic.
Although the partners have been tight-lipped about the details of the 20+ research programs funded under the terms of the agreement, both companies have express enthusiasm about progress to date and optimism about the future.
The sheer financial scale of the arrangment, along with the involvement of a huge mainstream drug company, highlight the emerging confidence in the pharmaceutical industry that anti-aging medications will provide a major avenue for growth and profit. Although the payoff remains many years down the road, it seems clear that both companies are willing to stake a great deal of capital to reap the long-term benefits of early adopter advantage.