For many people looking for ways to treat illness or disease, the first thought is to pop a pill. Taking medication is a reactive approach to disease. But Eric Marcotulli, CEO of Elysium Health, says science is now revealing ways that a proactive approach can stave off disease and bodily decline.
Elysium, a New York-based startup developing health supplements, has turned its scientific study of the aging process into a pill that supports the health of the human body’s cells. Now the company has its eyes on bringing that science into a wider range of applications aimed at promoting healthy bodily function that could help prevent disease rather than treating it.
“Our biologies are natural things, that’s what’s degrading over time,” Marcotulli says. “Natural interventions and natural molecules are likely the things to be most effective.”
Elysium now has $20 million in new funding to expand its natural products research. General Catalyst led the Series B round and was joined by Breyer Capital, Morningside Ventures, and Sound Ventures. Marcotulli declined to say how much the company had raised previously. Earlier investors in Elysium include Jim Manzi, the chairman of Thermo Fisher Scientific and former chairman, president, and CEO of Lotus Development Corp.; biotech venture capitalist Robert Nelsen; and entrepreneur Matthew Mullenweg.
The funding will support a marketing push behind the company’s first product, a supplement pill called Basis. The capital will also support research and clinical testing for additional products that could have potential applications in brain, skin, and structural health (muscles, joints, bones). Marcotulli gave no timeline for when these products could become available, but he says each one will be backed by science and clinical testing. Though Basis launched in early 2015, initial clinical trial results are just now coming to light.
The science behind Basis was developed from the work of Leonard Guarente, a professor of biology at MIT. His research discovered the role that a protein called sirtuin plays in cellular health. In order to work, sirtuins require a co-enzyme called NAD+, says Guarente, the chief scientific officer and co-founder of Elysium. But NAD+ levels decline during aging, which leads to sirtuins becoming inactive. This inactivity affects cellular processes for metabolism and making energy.
“When NAD+ levels drop, things stop working well inside of cells,” Guarente says.
Basis contains two natural ingredients that together support NAD+ production. The first is nicotinamide riboside, or NR, a molecule that is found in milk. The second is pterostilbene, or PT, which is found in blueberries. PT is closely related to another compound called resveratrol, a molecule found in red wine that a company called Sirtris Pharmaceuticals studied for potential therapeutic applications. Guarente, who served on the scientific advisory board of the now shuttered Sirtris, says that PT is a better compound than resveratrol because it’s more stable and is also more easily absorbed by the body.
Elysium markets Basis as a health supplement, not a drug, so it did not need clinical trials before entering the market. But Guarente says that because Elysium wants to back up its products with science, the company tested its pill in a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study—the same way a drug developer would test an experimental therapeutic. The study enrolled 120 patients, between 60 and 80 years in age, divided into three groups: a placebo arm, a Basis arm, and an arm that received a double dose of Basis. The goals of the two-month study were to measure for an increase in NAD+ levels, as well as to test whether those elevated levels were sustained over a long period of time.
The trial data are still being studied now. But Guarente says that the group that received Basis saw NAD+ levels increase about 40 percent from baseline levels; the increase was even higher in the double dose group. NAD+ levels were unchanged in the placebo arm. Marcotulli says that the trial results mark the first time that a compound has been shown to sustain NAD+ levels. Those results will become the subject of a scientific paper that will be submitted to a peer-reviewed journal, he says.
In the meantime, Elysium is working to build sales of Basis. A bottle of 60 pills (recommended dosage: two pills a day) costs $60. Elysium also offers Basis through subscriptions that range from $50 monthly to $480 a month for an annually. The company only sells its product through its website, which Marcotulli says allows Elysium to interact directly with consumers and provide them information about the research behind Basis. Though Basis is not regulated like a drug, Marcotulli says the company is trying to bring more transparency and scientific rigor to health supplements.
“What we’re trying to do is fill a void between the existing consumer-facing world and the pharmaceutical market,” he says.