We had the opportunity to speak to Apollo Health Ventures about the Moonshot Venture Fellowship and about the aging research field in general from the perspective of a venture capital firm.
Apollo Health Ventures is a life science venture capital firm and life science company builder working across Europe and North America. Apollo is unique among investment firms due to its focus on a specific field of scientific research – the basic biology of aging. Apollo helps scientists working on understanding how and why we age to set up companies based on their discoveries, then builds those companies together with scientists and biotech professionals.
The Moonshot Venture Fellowship is a 12-month program designed to give scientists the experience and support to create, launch, and build a venture-backed life science company based on outstanding science. For a scientist with a passion for translating research into medicines that make a difference for patients, the Moonshot Fellowship is an accelerated path to equip the Fellow with the skills to be a leader in life science companies.
We had the chance to speak with Dr. Ole Mensching from Apollo Health Ventures about the Moonshot Venture.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, your background, and how you got interested in this field?
I’m a serial entrepreneur who has built fast-scaling companies in different industries over the last 9 years. I started with tech companies in the early 2010s. Among them was an international headhunting group I founded and sold to a private equity fund last year.
Almost 5 years ago, my business partner Nils Regge and I decided that we want to solve a very big and important problem in the future. We rented a room without windows in the basement of our office, met once a week, and brainstormed on what we want to do, looking at many different things. We were fascinated by the fact that we were the first generation to understand what makes us age at a biochemical level – extending healthspan was the most appealing mission to us. At the same time, investments in this space are the biggest business opportunity out there.
Today, I’m responsible for the recruiting and team building at Apollo. I have the privilege to apply the expertise I’ve built up over the last decade at a topic I’m truly passionate about.
The idea that something might be done about age-related diseases using a repair-based approach targeting the root causes of aging was, for the most part, not taken seriously just a decade ago. However, that has changed in recent years, and now significant investment money has started to flow into the field. What has happened in the last few years to increase acceptance and confidence in the idea?
I think the biggest change is the progress in aging science – over the last 10 years, scientific knowledge has evolved very quickly and reached a point where we finally understand what aging means on a molecular level and how we can fight it. Also, accelerating technologies like CRISPR and AI have catalyzed the entire longevity industry. At Apollo, we are leveraging this scientific progress to build the companies that will finally target the root cause of age-related diseases.
Can you tell us a little bit about the Moonshot Venture Fellowship?
Our industry is a very young one. Thus, we believe that company building is needed to build up our industry. In the Moonshot Venture Program, either very senior pharma executives or biotech entrepreneurs are coming to us with an specific idea for a new company or smart and ambitious postdocs who don’t have a specific idea for a company but unique insides and expertise in a specific area of the longevity field.
Traditionally, there has been somewhat of a disconnect between basic research and spinning that off into a biotech company capable of developing and delivering a therapy to market. How exactly is the Moonshot Venture Fellowship helping to bridge that gap?
The postdocs that we hire do exactly that. Most of them are coming out of universities and have significant expertise in aging science when they join our program. They have about 6 months of time to speak with everybody in their field, visit conferences, and read papers. Together with us, they evaluate the best technologies and ideas they find during their research. Our team’s expertise and long biotech experience is a great source to come up with a promising development plan. We help with tasks like IP evaluation, technology licensing, indication selection, and drug development plans.
When all evaluations are positive, we found a company jointly with our fellows. Our support does not stop with the foundation of the company. We continue to be deeply engaged in the development of the company. Fundraising in our broad co-investor network and recruiting are two good examples where we can be really helpful for young companies.
Many promising startups fall foul of the “valley of death” before they can deliver to market and become profitable. How can programs such as the Moonshot Venture Fellowship help to mitigate this issue?
A program like ours can help to mitigate that issue, because apart from the scientific evaluation, we have the expertise, manpower and capital to commercialize such technologies. We are convinced that a clear clinical strategy and simply knowing who are the right co-investors for a project keep promising technologies from “drying out”. Our team has co-invested with all the experienced biotech VCs. We actively fundraise for our companies in our network so that the team can focus on what they are good at, i.e. developing promising therapeutics for age-related diseases.
What do you see based on your experience as being the greatest bottleneck to getting rejuvenation biotechnology based approaches to aging from the bench to the bedside?
It is definitely, first and foremost, money. However, the situation is getting better quickly, as more and more VCs and institutional investors realize that the longevity field is developing real technologies, solving a very important problem and the biggest business opportunity out there.
Is there anything else you would like to share with us about the Moonshot Venture Fellowship or Apollo Health Ventures in general?
This program is perfect for everyone who wants to work entrepreneurial on frontier technologies and make a difference to the world. At Apollo, everybody works on aging by conviction. If you share the same mission, the Moonshot Fellowship will be the greatest program you can ever join.
If you are a scientist and are interested in participating in the Moonshot Venture Fellowship program, we urge you to visit the Apollo website to learn more and apply.
Finally, we would like to thank Dr. Ole Mensching for taking the time to speak with us today and want to remind our readers that Dr. Alexandra Bause, Co-Founder and Investment Director at Apollo Health Ventures, will be speaking at our online conference, Ending Age-Related Diseases 2020 on August 20-21, and you can learn more about the event here.