Anti-aging pill startup Elysium Health inks at least $20 million in Series B funding

Elysium Health markets a pill formulated with ingredients it says will keep you feeling young and, according to a source close to the matter and documents obtained by TechCrunch, the startup has closed on $20 million in Series B financing at what we’re told is a $157 million valuation led by General Catalyst and participation from an ARCH Venture Partners investor.

Reached for comment, Elysium suggested that our information is outdated, but declined to provide more information.

Update: ARCH Venture Partners says it is not a participant but investor Robert Nelson has confirmed he is an individual investor in Elysium’s latest funding round. General Catalyst confirmed it led the round.

However, the price is consistent with prior reporting in New York Magazine that the company was seeking $20 million in funding.

According to Elysium’s most recent (10/27/2016) Restated Articles of Incorporation the startup also raised $6.1 million in previously unreported Series A and $109,000 in Series A-1 funding rounds, bringing the total funding to approximately $26.2 million.

Elysium, which launched 18 months ago, has attracted some interest from those in the supplement industry for the scientific rigor and longevity claims applied to its first product called Basis. It is also co-founded by a former Sequoia Capital partner Eric Marcotulli, former J.P. Morgan exec Dan Alminana and head of aging research Leonard Guarente and includes a scientific advisory board with six Nobel Laureates.

A formidable team, to be sure. And it seems to be part of a growing trend of Silicon Valley companies hopping on the longevity bandwagon in the last few years. Google, now Alphabet, launched life extension research startup Calico, Larry Ellison has poured $400 million into the Lawrence Ellison Foundation to focus on aging and both J. Craig Venter and XPRIZE’s Peter Diamand teamed up to form genomics company Human Longevity, Inc.

But are Elysium’s pills really the fountain of youth? Elysium claims its Basis product can do anything from helping you sleep better to repair your DNA, all leading up to a longer, healthier life. But the ingredients in these pills — a combination of nicotinamide riboside (NR) and pterostilbene — are not proprietary. For one they occur naturally in blueberries and milk, and for another you can actually buy both ingredients used in Elysium’s pills in separate bottles on Amazon for around $19 for a 30-day supply of NR and $12 for a 60-day supply of pterostilbene.

Elysium sells its Basis product, the combination of these two ingredients, for $50 per month or $60 for a one-time purchase.

We asked Elysium about the non-proprietary nature of its products back in July. Elysium defended its product then, telling TechCrunch, “Many supplement companies are not transparent about who, exactly, is managing and supporting the company” and that “Many supplements do not contain the ingredients listed on the label.” It also mentioned its commitment to scientific rigor and pointed out Basis is the only product on the market combining the two supplements.

While it’s pretty easy to combine pills and see the ingredients as we’re only dealing with two supplements here, Elysium does have a valid point about the standards in the U.S. vitamin industry. The startup has the means to prove its supplements actually work in a field with a reputation for selling snake oil to cure all manner of disease.

There’s also something to be said for branding. People buy vitamins and supplements they believe are good for them and rely heavily on the trust in the brand, though most amount to a lot of sugar or ingredients easily obtained for less somewhere else. Take, for example, Khloe Kardashian’s gummy bear hair vitamins, which sell for $84 but are essentially corn syrup and some biotin.

But Elysium also has work to do in proving its supplements actually do what it tells customers it can do right now. So far we don’t know if they actually can prolong the life of humans, just mice. Still, Elysium tells customers its products will work on them.

However, the startup is currently conducting a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled human clinical trial with 120 people between the ages of 60 to 80 under the same ground rules as typically required by the FDA for pharmaceutical studies — something rare in the highly unregulated supplement industry.

While, the FDA doesn’t deem aging as a disease itself, it does regulate certain drugs dealing with diseases associated with aging such as alzheimers so Elysium doesn’t have to get its Basis product approved before selling. But that also means it must rely on its scientific board for credibility — possibly raising eyebrows in the scientific community for selling pills based on unsubstantiated claims.

On the flip of that is of course a startup willing to test its product at a higher standard in an industry that doesn’t have to. There’s something to be said of that.