The anti-ageing industry is no longer just selling dreams of a wrinkle-free future to women, it’s now promising to improve our health as we age — and even extend our lives.

One Australian geneticist even reckons that his “anti-ageing molecule” has contributed to making him almost 20 years younger.

Anti-ageing drug development is a booming business in the US — and now a little-known Australian biotech Exopharm is raising $7 million to develop regenerative medicine treatment ahead of a December ASX listing.

Anti-ageing ‘regenerative’ medicine

Exopharm was last year spun out of a Melbourne biotech incubator called Altnia Group to “bring a new type of potential regenerative medicine into clinical use to treat health span-related medical conditions”.

“The medical problems associated with ageing are challenging to the person affected, their relatives, loved ones and our health systems… And yet we know some people — the centenarians — can be fit and active into their late 80s and 90s,” the Exopharm prospectus reads.

“Regenerative medicine seeks to address this challenge and extend the duration of our wellness and capacity.”

Telling your body it’s younger than it thinks it is

Exopharm wants to use a derivative of stems cells not to grow new body parts or uber-humans but as an incremental patch-up job to repair ageing cells.

Exopharm’s research focuses on “exosomes” — a kind of cellular courier that shuttles genetic information and proteins between cells.

By tapping these intercellular couriers Exopharm reckons it’s possible to send different messages to cells affected by various aspects of the ageing process.

For example, they could tell cells to reduce inflammation, speed up the development of new cells, or prolong survival. In effect they want to tell a cell that it’s a younger, healthier version of itself.

While stem cell therapy generally doesn’t work for everyone — it has to be very tailored — Exopharm believes it can turn exosomes into a one-sized fits all drug platform.

The trick is extracting them from an adult stem cell, a process, they say, they’ve figured out.

Using this kind of ‘anti-ageing’ technology in regenerative medicine that can be applied to diseases of old age such as dementia, hearing loss or arthritis, means a drug can also be put through clinical trials that will be accepted by a national regulator, such as the US FDA.

As researchers in the US are finding, the FDA does not consider aging by itself to be a disease.

Those trying to make certified, registered drugs purely with the intent to prolong life are coming up against an FDA that is not keen to turn a natural life process into a treatable condition.

What the money is going on

Right now Exopharm has a licence for its exosome extraction technology and a Melbourne plant where it can make exosomes for research purposes.

It aims to spend its IPO funds making a drug called ‘Plexaris’ and doing animal trials and pre-clinical testing on wound-healing.

Early clinical trials on humans are planned for about 12 months time.

Trials will target osteoarthritis, wound-healing and dry macular degeneration, a common eye disorder in the over 50s that causes blurred or reduced central vision.

Exopharm has no revenue outside research grants and interest payments.

Managing director and founder Dr Ian Dixon will be getting $220,000 a year, while chairman Jason Watson gets $96,000 and the other director, David Parker earns $30,000.

Dr Dixon is no stranger to ASX-listed biotechs. He is a co-founder of Cynata Therapeutics (ASX:CYP) and a director of Noxopharm (ASX:NOX).

Dr Dixon and his wife will control about 35 per cent of the company after the float via shares held by Altnia Holdings, which they control.

“I will retain a significant long-term shareholding in the company and will play a key ongoing role in the company’s growth and development through my role as Managing Director,” Mr Dixon says in the prospectus.

Exopharm hopes to list on December 19 under the code EX1.