Google Anti-Aging Startup, Calico, Snags Big Names: Barron, Botstein

11/19/13Follow @xconomy

[Updated: 5:55 pm PT] Google’s new high-profile anti-aging startup, Calico, stirred up plenty of intrigue this fall when it made the cover of Time magazine. Now it has recruited a few superstars of biomedical R&D to work full-time on the startup, including Hal Barron, the chief medical officer and head of global product development at Roche/Genentech, as well as Princeton geneticist David Botstein.

Calico CEO Arthur Levinson, one of the most respected names in the biotechnology industry, made the announcement today in a posting from his Google Plus account.

Here’s what he said.

“Today, I am pleased to announce that four of the brightest and most accomplished individuals in the fields of medicine, drug development, molecular biology and genetics have joined Calico.

• Hal V. Barron, M.D.

• David Botstein, Ph.D.

• Robert Cohen, M.D.

• Cynthia Kenyon, Ph.D.”

Barron will be the president of R&D at Calico, and Botstein will be the chief scientific officer. Both roles are full-time commitments. Genentech spokesman Geoff Teeter confirmed that Barron is making the move, and offered the following comment via e-mail.

Hal will combine this new role with a part-time commitment at Roche. He will remain a member of the Roche Late Stage Portfolio Committee, where he will continue to actively contribute to the decision-making for the late stage pipeline. Hal will also become a member of the Genentech Board of Directors and act as an advisor to Daniel O’Day, Chief Operating Officer Pharma. Hal will continue in his current role as Head of PD [product development] through end of this year and will take on some work with Calico immediately.

We thank Hal for his numerous and significant contributions to the success of Genentech and Roche to date and look forward to his continued significant involvement in the company. A new Head of Global Product Development and Chief Medical Officer will be announced in due course.

Botstein, the famous geneticist at Princeton University in New Jersey, confirmed via email that he plans to move to the San Francisco Bay Area. Botstein is currently on a leave of absence from Princeton.

When I asked Botstein via email to clarify that his role is full-time and involves a move to the Bay Area, he said: “This is essentially correct. It’s a little more complicated as I still will [be] on leave from Princeton for some time so my lab folks there can finish up. I’ll be in my office Thursday. Right now I’m on the road.”

Cohen, a senior oncology fellow at Genentech, is joining as a “Calico Fellow” which is another full-time job that involves work on both R&D and business development. Kenyon, a leading scientist at UCSF on aging and life extension, is joining Calico as a “senior scientific advisor.” That is a part-time position, and Kenyon said in a brief interview she will remain a full-time faculty member at UCSF.

“It’s still early, but it’s exciting,” Kenyon says. “We don’t have everything worked out. But basically, the field of aging research is amazing. There are so many cool results in the literature in terms of how you can perturb this or that signaling pathway, and how to keep an animal ‘young’ longer or extend its lifespan. It’s a very, very exciting time for a company like Calico to come along. I think Calico can really do exciting things.”

The high-profile quartet of hires will begin work on Calico in the coming weeks.

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  • Kirk M Maxey

    Those who do not read history are doomed to repeat it. No less enthusiasm whirled around GERON when they debuted. A lot more intellectual property in the field of telomer technology, and no lesser top layer management were put to work on the problems of aging. Now re-packaged as a virtual cancer biopharma, their shares languish in the single digits.
    Of course, I will relish being the reagent provider that provides Calico with their picks and shovels, to use a San Francisco/gold miner analogy.
    Best of luck – you’ll need it.

  • Petar Posavec

    There’s a lot of research and experimentation that’s already been done on the subject matter.
    It was already stated that by injecting stem cells into the abdominal section could triple ‘the average lifespan’.

    Stem-cells are 1 option.
    Nanorobots (invented over 20 years ago) could be another one (but not in a manner that makes the body dependent on the technology, but rather that the technology prompts the body’s own processes to work more efficiently and differently, as well as extent the lifespan indefinitely).

    To that end… how do we know that physical death as it occurs in Humans is natural?
    It could just as easily be a byproduct of a psychosomatic response from our observation of the environment which early Humans projected onto themselves and the premise could have stuck with society as we know it.

    Virtually everything we understand about our customs and behavior is essentially influenced by the environment.
    By living in an environment which basically conforms to the notion that ‘death is inevitable’, you essentially create a psychosomatic response on a subconscious level which manifests in/on your body, and this in turn produces an epigenetic effect.

    There’s more than enough evidence to suggest that placebo effect is extremely effective.

    To that end… it might be possible to accomplish this without technological intervention. On a personal level, it would require distancing oneself from most commonly held perceptions and opening the mind to new ones (not an easy task given that we live in society which does the very opposite, but its possible, and requires a lot of effort – and I would surmise it would also require adjustment in ones lifestyle which includes diet, etc.).

    Apart from that, telomere research is another option – but I doubt Telomeres alone are responsible for the effect of physical ageing as we understand the process.
    There could be other co-factors involved, but Telomeres are a good place to start – and their association with cancer growing out of control is a bit outdated.