HomeHow Nathaniel David is Transforming the Healthcare Industry

How Nathaniel David is Transforming the Healthcare Industry

Nathaniel David is no stranger to the healthcare industry.

The scientist and entrepreneur has co-founded a number of startups in the biotechnology and sustainable energy spaces, and has played a significant role in the development of two US-approved drugs.

Currently the CEO and co-founder of Unity Biotechnology, David has been a key player in the development of healthcare startups.


Interestingly, David’s companies span across a variety of industries within the healthcare space. His ventures have ranged from energy and antibacterial medication to aesthetic medicine.

David, however, believes there’s a simple common thread to what he does.

“Basically everything I work on has to be cool. That’s the common thread. People look at that and say, ‘Dude, that’s cool.’ That’s the honest to goodness truth.  I will continue to work on things as long as they are indisputably cool”, he tells WuXi AppTec.

The First Venture – Syrrx

David founded Syrrx, the first of his healthcare startups, during his last year of doctoral work at UC Berkeley in 1999, where he obtained a PhD in Molecular and Cellular Biology.

Headquartered in San Diego, Syrrx focuses on drug targets and therapeutics treating metabolic diseases, cancers, and inflammation. Uniquely, the company uses advanced knowledge in structural biology to drive programs for drug candidates.

Syrrx received $79 million from VCs, and was sold to Japanese pharmaceutical giant Takeda for a reported $270 million in 2005.

Syrrx notably developed anti-diabetic drug Nesina, which was approved by the US FDA in 2013.

Post Syrrx Projects

After the sale of Syrrx, David moved onto other projects, the first was Achaogen. Founded in 2002, Achaogen discovers and develops broad-spectrum antibiotics to treat bacterial infections, and is currently in Phase 3 trials.

His second venture was Kythera Biopharmaceuticals, which develops treatments and products for the aesthetic medicine market.

David pushed for the development of several drugs while at Kythera, including a CIA-backed drug that reportedly could reshape someone’s face – a venture that failed. The company succeeded in developing a clinically proven, non-surgical injection that destroys double chins, called Kybella.

David left Kythera in 2009 as the company’s focus shifted solely to Kybella, and began work at a venture partner at Arch, where he worked with Robert Nelsen, renowned venture capitalist and active in the healthcare sector.

The entrepreneur also co-founded Sapphire Energy, a company dedicated to developing algae-derived transportation fuels. The company began construction of the first ever commercial algae bio-refinery in 2010, a project that was given over $100 million in federal funding.

Extending the Human Lifespan with Unity Biotechnology

Nathaniel David’s latest venture in healthcare is arguably his most intriguing.

Unity Biotechnology aims to increase the average human’s healthspan – or ‘the period in one’s life unburdened by the disease of aging.’

The company aims to halt, slow, or reverse age-related diseases by eliminating senescent cells – cells they claim are integral to the aging process.

David had the idea for the company after reading a paper in Nature, showing that when these senescent cells were eliminated in mice, the animals would show characteristics of youth, longer. Indeed, when older mice were given this treatment, they appeared to stop aging according to several indicators.

While Unity may seem like an “anti-aging” company however, David does not agree with the label. The claim implies that biologists know what makes humans fundamentally age, he says, which they don’t.

He also has ambitious plans for the company’s impact on US healthcare.

One of the things we cured in mice is kidney disease. To put things into context, the budget for the NIH is $33 billion, and in the United States we spend $25 billion just doing dialysis on kidney patients. What we show is when we clear senescent cells in mice they don’t get kidney disease. What this means is the NIH budget for that never gets spent, and this is one disease out of dozens,” he says. “People won’t have to do dialysis anymore. It will be something you read about in history books like smallpox. The really cool thing is what if we wind up getting rid of 2/3 of health care costs in the United States?”

Unity is backed by a number of renowned venture capital firms including Jeff Bezos’ Bezos Expeditions, and Mayo Clinic Ventures. The company has obtained over $200 million in funding.

Ongoing Tests

In June of this year, Unity announced that it was beginning human clinical trials for UBX0101, a drug reducing senescence around osteoarthritic joints. The trials are focused on osteoarthritis of the knee, and will test for the safety and tolerability of a single injection to the joint. The clinical tests also represent the first time the targeting of senescent cells is being tested.

David says that Unity’s injection has been shown to grow new cartilage in knees treated in a lab dish. If the test is successful, it will represent a major leap forward in the battle against age-related diseases.

The Bottom Line

Incredibly, all of David’s biopharmaceutical companies have enjoyed success. Syrrx produced an approved drug, Achaogen is in trials, and Kythera successfully developed an approved drug as well. David’s companies have also raised over $1.5 billion in funding.

Nathaniel David believes his job as a scientist is never finished, however.

I believe that it’s our duty as scientists to try to build a better future for our children that is characterized by fairness and humanity”, he says. “So my goal is to have a future that is more beautiful and more humane than the present by building a series of technologies through the arc of my life.”

To find out more about innovation in the healthcare industry, read here.

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