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Pfizer-Backed VitaDAO Launches Biotech Company

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VitaDAO, a decentralized autonomous organization (DAO), has launched its first biotech, Matrix Biosciences. This is a real milestone for new models of funding for the scientific community.

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The launch is in collaboration with Vera Gorbunova from the University of Rochester’s Aging Research Center and is well-known in the field for her work with naked mole rats and their longevity.

VitaDAO made waves by closing a $4 million funding round in January this year, headlined by an investment from Pfizer Ventures. VitaDAO has confirmed that the first tranche of $300,000 for Matrix will be followed by additional funding through IP-NFT fractionalization early next year.

Matrix Biosciences is developing therapeutics for cancer and diseases related to aging, specifically focusing on high molecular weight hyaluronic acid (HMW-HA). The company’s research is based on the discovery that naked mole rats, a type of long-lived rodent, have a lifespan of up to 40 years, whereas normal rats only live for about 3 years.

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It has been found that these rodents are resistant to cancer due to the abundance of HMW-HA in their tissues. Studies have shown that transgenic mice, which have been genetically modified to express the naked mole rat hyaluronan synthase gene (NHAS2), have a lower incidence of tumors and improved overall health, and they live approximately 10% longer than mice without the transgene.

Matrix Biosciences is currently developing a new class of small molecule-based drugs that can regulate hyaluronidases, with the aim of using them for the treatment of cancer and to potentially increase human longevity.

We had the opportunity to catch up with Eleanor Davies and Anthony Schwartz from VitaDAO to talk about this exciting development.

Hello there, could you tell us a little bit about yourselves and what you do at VitaDAO?

A: Hi, I’m Anthony Schwartz. I’ve been in the biotech realm for the past 20 years. I’ve started, at this point, about 20 different biotech companies, moved several things into clinical trials, and facilitated FDA approval. I joined VitaDAO last year to help them launch companies.

Basically, at VitaDAO, when a cool idea comes in, I help build the company around it, help with fundraising, help build the scientific plan, help move something from the lab into the clinic. Then, at that point, fundraise more or get the company acquired by someone.

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Sounds good, and we definitely need more translational researchers to help get things from the lab to the clinic.

E: I’m Eleanor. My background is in mergers and acquisitions advisory, focusing on healthcare and biotech. Then, consulting on political regulatory change in healthcare and biotech transactions. I then went on to work in fund operations at an accelerator, On Deck, and later joining the co-founding team of LabDAO as COO. My role at VitaDAO is Dealflow Steward; this involves setting and implementing the funding mandate, sourcing, evaluating, creating a structure for DAO members to join, working on deals, working on senior review, funding, building, and negotiating terms.

IPTs, IP-NFTs, that’s the more academic side. I’m also working on the startup side, so it’s really a dual-pronged approach there. I am working on portfolio management, working on building our scientific advisory board, so basically everything that covers dealflow from an operational backend side. Also outsourcing, speaking with scientists, founders, pretty much the end-to-end process.

Also, I help organize ambassador events, getting more projects, finding more DAO talent to come in, and being the point of contact there. Also some of the company-building stuff as well, including project manager at Matrix Bio alongside Anthony. Anthony is the project lead, I’m more of a lieutenant, and we’re working on Matrix together.

We are also defining the framework for how the DAO members, company builders, and funded academic spin-outs work in a more centralized manner. There’s a lot of engineering that’s going on in the background.

Great, you have a lot of experience. So what about VitaDAO, specifically what is it?

E: VitaDAO is basically an umbrella organization that enables people who are interested in longevity to come in and to meet others on the VitaDAO Discord who also share the same interests, passions. It’s lowering the barriers to entry for those who are interested in the health and wellness side of longevity as well as the more pure biotech and therapeutic side. It’s kind of everyone under one roof.

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There are three different working groups. Community awareness is more what you would define as business development, outreach, engaging with those who are interested and enthusiastic. There’s the financial operation side as well, which is more tokenomics and investors.

Then there’s the deal flow side, which I spoke about earlier. What VitaDAO does is it democratizes the funding decision making process by enabling a hive mind to come in and evaluate a deal. It means we are able to tap into contributors from around the world with different expertise that’s related to the project.

Basically, we are getting a higher concentration of expert knowledge for a specific project in order to get the best funding outcome. It’s like when people talk about the wisdom of the crowds, that’s how we decide how we do funding and how we make funding decisions.

A project will work on a dual approach, in particular, conduct an evaluation and due diligence, then a senior review. A recommendation will then be brought to the community, and then a final vote will be made by those who are token holders.

To give you an idea of the scale we are working at, we have around 2,400 token holders at VitaDAO of the 10,000 community members that we have today.

It’s very much decentralized science, the idea of fundraising for research using alternative methods to traditional sources such as grants. It certainly bypasses the problem of risk aversion to funding moonshot projects we see in the grant system.Β 

I actually find it interesting that the cryptocurrency community has become increasingly interested in longevity and rejuvenation research in the last 2-3 years. Do you have any thoughts on how and why that may have happened?

E: For me, I think it’s because the use case of crypto is kind of convoluted, and I think decentralized dcience [DeSci] is basically a Trojan horse for bringing people into the crypto community who see the value of the technology. The technology and its use cases for scientific research is actually pretty compelling, and I think that’s one reason why people are becoming more interested in it.

Yes, and not aging and dying from age-related diseases is also a pretty compelling case for funding the research too. Could you tell us a little bit about Matrix Biosciences and what they’re about?

A: Basically, Vera Gorbunova discovered that high molecular rate hyaluronic acid is very abundant in naked mole rats, and that’s probably the reason they live really long, and there are these enzymes that degrade that in humans, so there’s less of it.

Matrix is developing compounds that target that hyaluronic acid by blocking hyaluronidases which could then be preventative against cancer, or it could potentially treat cancer, or it could prevent a bunch of different aging, aging diseases. We hope to move these compounds down the preclinical pathway and then into humans.

What was it in particular that made you decide that this company was the one?

E: Vera Gorbunova is one of the world’s most acclaimed longevity researchers: she has excellent research and is also a pleasure to work with. A number of people in the community in the DealFlow working group have worked with her previously or have been taught by her previously.

There’s basically a community vibe check as well. There’s the familiarity with a number of trusted, established Dealflow community members that this project is.interesting and it’s good to work with. There’s been a good amount of evaluation and due diligence that’s gone into it.

I believe Sebastian Brunemeier brought this project in to start off with, and he’s also pretty well known in the space. Again, it’s another kind of check that this is something potentially interesting. Also, her work is on the kind of moonshot end of the spectrum, which also falls into our funding mandate and part of what VitaDAO really does.

In terms of the actual community decision making, there were a number of senior reviews made by experts in the field who then provided evaluations. This was a recommendation to the entire community, and then there was a vote about the project. The community voted in favor based on the evaluation information that had been gathered in the lead up to that. That’s basically how the decision process works.

And then Anthony, myself, and a few others, like Todd White [operations steward], had been doing a lot of the background work in the lead-up to the announcement as well. So, a lot of time has gone into this in order to make it ready.

In respect that as a DAO in this community and this is your first company launch, it’s a big milestone, right?

A: I think it’s a milestone for all. I mean, obviously longevity, but all science, because no one’s actually ever done this before. I come from the oncology world, and no one has done this in oncology.

No one has done this in rare diseases. No one has done this in literally any disease. So I think it’s quite a big step for everything.

Because I’ve spent my life trying to fund stuff through grants, through seed funding, through venture capital, through series A’s, and it’s a real pain in the backside, and this is like the first kind of validation of a new funding model.

How exactly do you coordinate as a community and bring it all together? How do we democratize science in a practical way that doesn’t take us an entire lifetime of organizing?

E: First off, organization and making sure it’s self-automated is the most important thing, because otherwise you’re just going to burn yourself out with piecemeal requests. Having a dedicated working group like Dealflow is a start, and having a clear onboarding procedure where people can self-onboard and self-educate is another. There are pre-recorded materials, there are learning materials that are readily available, and also the fact that they can be used.

They are added to a CRM database with their specific expertise, which enables the flow of information and the ability to tap into people with different expertise a lot more easily. You’ve got to have your operations really on point, and having a person to onboard new people is super important.

It’s important that everyone has context as far as doing the dealflow process is concerned. So this is kind of split into pods where people with specific expertise work on deals that are relevant to them. And then they have the autonomy so they can decide on the make or break decisions.

There’s a degree of decentralization and there’s also a degree of centralization in the interest of time and efficiency. A deal is brought from beginning to end following a specified process. And then once a recommendation is made it is written up as a governance proposal. So it’s kind of similar to an investment memo, but it’s for governance.

This is where the community comes in and when the democratized decision making happens. The comments, feedback, openness, for any type of evaluation, that’s where it all comes in. And then it’s a case of setting deadlines, ensuring deadlines are enforced, and moving forward. It’s about establishing the beginning and the end, and how a project is going to be built after the funding is created.

It sounds like a lot of moving parts, and I admire those involved in making it happen.

E: Yeah, it works, because there’s so much excitement around it, and there’s amazing talent that’s in the working group as well and such an eagerness to help. Everyone is a pleasure to work with and are really excited about the mission, which just makes it even more compelling to work on. This has a snowball effect as well. We are getting more interested people coming in with even more eagerness to get involved.

Sounds great! Back to Matrix Bio. What are they using this current round of funding for?

A: They are going to be using the funding to identify a lead compound, like a lead drug that we can take into late stage preclinical studies and then hopefully into human clinical trials.

Presumably, there are a number of drug candidates that they’ve currently got?

A: Yeah, we just started the screening about a week ago, and it’s ongoing. Hopefully, sometime early next year, we should ideally have three lead drug candidates, and then we go and test those for a certain disease indication. It will likely be cancer to start with because it’s an easier pathway to market.

Hopefully, at that point, we’ll find our magic compound. That would move forward into IND-enabling [Investigational New Drug] studies, which are basically a bunch of safety studies, and then we move into people.

What sort of timeframe would you anticipate this to happen in?

A: I would hope within a year we could have a lead compound, and then I would give it another six to nine months for safety, and then if all goes as planned, best case maybe within three years. But I think that’s not unrealistic.

I will say that, I think one key point of all this is I know how stuff works in the drug world, and a lot of times you can waste two or three years getting funding. That’s two or three years down the road. That’s two to three years of patent life. That’s two to three years it doesn’t get to a person.

Our approach could help reduce that time.

What’s next in the cards for VitaDAO?

A: We launched another company earlier this month. It’s more stealthy at the moment. And we’re probably going to launch some more companies in the near future.

We’ve got a lot more academic spinouts. We’re also going into our next raise and raising considerable capital that will enable us to really put our foot on the gas. We’re also raising a sidecar fund.

For readers unaware of what a sidecar is, it is essentially a way to gather funds for investing in a specific opportunity. The term sidecar suggests that there is a main investor who discovered the opportunity, conducted thorough research, is directly investing in the venture, and is often associating their reputation and identity with the deal.

A: Yes, and that would be token gated as well. Token holders can come into a syndicate with VitaDAO and be able to have first access to the academic projects that we spin out for follow-on financing.

We’re doing a membership platform as well for token holders to get access to health, wellness, products, goods, and services.

There’s a lot of these alternative platforms that use different tokens and you’ve got to have different tokens with different sites. There seems to be very little integration between it all. Any thoughts on that?Β 

E: Yeah, I hear what you’re saying. I think there’s a lot of consolidation that’s needed as far as tokens are concerned, and I think it helps also having them on one chain versus multiple.

The benefit, however, with Gitcoin is that you can raise not only capital quite quickly from the community via crowdfunding, the added thing that you have is that it has a degree of volatility, a degree of crypto-ness, that comes with it. You get funded a lot more quickly and it’s a lot more democratized, but you also have to deal with the clunkiness of the technology.

There are people who are working on consolidating the different chains, the different currencies. It’s just there’s a lot of engineering that goes into doing that. It is underway, but it’ll probably take some time and is a long-term thing.

Thanks for taking the time to talk with us today, and we look forward to hearing more about your future company launches and following Matrix Biosciences as it moves towards the clinic.

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About the author

Steve Hill

Steve serves on the LEAF Board of Directors and is the Editor in Chief, coordinating the daily news articles and social media content of the organization. He is an active journalist in the aging research and biotechnology field and has to date written over 600 articles on the topic, interviewed over 100 of the leading researchers in the field, hosted livestream events focused on aging, as well as attending various medical industry conferences. His work has been featured in H+ magazine, Psychology Today, Singularity Weblog, Standpoint Magazine, Swiss Monthly, Keep me Prime, and New Economy Magazine. Steve is one of three recipients of the 2020 H+ Innovator Award and shares this honour with Mirko Ranieri – Google AR and Dinorah Delfin – Immortalists Magazine. The H+ Innovator Award looks into our community and acknowledges ideas and projects that encourage social change, achieve scientific accomplishments, technological advances, philosophical and intellectual visions, author unique narratives, build fascinating artistic ventures, and develop products that bridge gaps and help us to achieve transhumanist goals. Steve has a background in project management and administration which has helped him to build a united team for effective fundraising and content creation, while his additional knowledge of biology and statistical data analysis allows him to carefully assess and coordinate the scientific groups involved in the project.