San Francisco startup Loyal is rethinking the concept of longevity and starting with man’s best friend.
The company raised $27 million in Series A funding in a round, led by Khosla Ventures and including First Round Capital, Box Group, Collaborative Fund, The Longevity Fund and Lachy Groom — all companies involved in Loyal’s $11 million seed round raised in 2020, as well as a group of angel investors. To date, the company has raised $38 million since being founded in 2019 by founder and CEO Celine Halioua.
She touts her choice of investor makeup, 50% female, as a way of elevating more women in the areas of deep tech and longevity. Halioua herself comes from a background of both. She began in neuroscience at The University of Texas and from there briefly studied gene therapy at the University of Oxford before leaving to join The Longevity Fund as its chief of staff and an entrepreneur-in-residence.
The global anti-aging drugs market was valued at nearly $8 billion in 2020 and is projected to double by 2027. Though Botox is well known in this space for its ability to smooth out wrinkles, Halioua told TechCrunch that by addressing aging it could be preventative medicine for age-related diseases affecting humans, like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
The company’s thesis is that by intending to improve the healthspan and lifespan in dogs, that research will uncover more about how to do the same in humans. Halioua explained that a dog’s lifespan is similar to a human’s due to proximity — dogs have shared environmental factors, sometimes share the same diet and can develop the same aging diseases as humans like cardiac problems and cancer.
Loyal is building an animal pharmaceutical company that is developing therapeutics aimed at extending both lifespan and healthspan for dogs, utilizing companion dog citizen science studies of over 500 dogs to better understand dog aging and eventually parlay that R&D into products intended for humans.
Over the past year, Loyal grew from a team of three to 30 people. The new funding will enable the company to build out a bigger computation biology team to continue focusing on its products: one aimed at expanding the life of large breed animals, which are known to have shorter lifespans than their small breed counterparts, and one for improving cognitive function.
Both of these will go into clinical studies next year, working toward U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval, Halioua said. After the company can show that its drugs are doing what it says they can do — help dogs to live longer, healthier lives —Loyal will then focus on building a consumer brand that is direct-to-consumer selling directly to both veterinarians and pet parents.
“Our next steps are to build out our biology team and data over time so we can take on the gnarly problem of quantifying the aging process,” she added. “There is an opportunity to build a pharmaceutical brand that people love versus being confused by it. These are drugs meant for something happy — giving more years to a dog.”
Pets are a big industry with American spending on pets reaching nearly $100 billion in 2020, up from $95.7 billion in 2019, according to the American Pet Products Association. Venture capital investment into the space is also growing, for example Embark Veterinary announced a $75 million round from SoftBank in July. The company offers DNA testing with the goal of curbing preventable diseases and increasing the lifespan of dogs by three years within the next decade.
Alexander Morgan, M.D. Ph.D., partner at Khosla Ventures, said that the pet space is an active one and is a large enough opportunity that if Loyal just wanted to focus its energy there, it could build a large, profitable business.
Due to dogs being a good model for human health, many studies on human diseases are done on dogs. However, there is a challenge in knowing if the drug is actually beneficial, he added.
“Loyal is approaching longevity with a narrow mechanism,” Morgan said. “They are differentiated by focusing on overall lifespan and healthspan. Healthspan is important because you don’t want to tack on years of unhealthy life.”