I’ll start with our personal longevity notes:)
Notes from Kunal: Longevity, anti-aging, mental health; it all means just one thing to me — quality of life. That is Ayuh’s thesis. Among other things, we believe the mind plays a crucial role in achieving a high quality of life. So, we started investing in technologies and treatments that can improve our mental health and well being. The power of the mind fascinates & excites me the most and I am always seeking to understand how we feed and look after the mind, truth be told this field has been lagging and is in need of a paradigm shift for some time. We’re interested in novel drug development in the fields of longevity and wellness, and we’re particularly excited about the potential of psychedelic medicines to provide breakthrough therapies for various indications. That said, these fields have been underfunded and under-researched for too long, which means we still don’t have a clear understanding of many aspects of these fields. Furthermore, fields like cell rejuvenation, fertility, and stem cells have not yet had the commercial impact that was promised decades ago. My personal health experiences have had an enormous impact on our mission — I am 44 years old and want to experience a fruitful life that comes with the joys of fatherhood despite any biological predispositions I might have. Ayuh Ventures invests in ground breaking solutions to these challenges, backed by domain experts in their respective fields.
My own personal experiences with mental health inspired me to start Ayuh Ventures in 2021 initially focused on investing in psychedelics. I believe psychedelics have the potential to help “drop the walls” and defense mechanisms that are built up in the mind over time. In my experience, the mind is always working non-stop and if you let it control you, game over. While I believe psychedelics may hold the potential for addressing mental health challenges, far more research is still needed. We eventually expanded our focus beyond mental health to CNS, women’s health, inflammatory, and sexual health, forming our own niche within the longevity space. 2022 was a busy year for us as we chose our founders, startups and companies in Ayuh Fund I and created our own playbook for longevity metrics. One person who has been instrumental in our work is Eric, who has combined his own experiences with health issues and his expertise in longevity to help guide our investments. His contributions are evident in the deals he has helped us secure, as evidenced by his memos, reports and work with founders.
First and foremost, it is important for this team to see a potential pathway for the reimbursement model, annual cost per patient, and annual number of patients early on. We’re aware of the challenges of working with a pharmaceutical company on these metrics later on, so we prefer to focus on founders with a similar vision on an equitable roadmap of scaling to patients. If the benefit of these technologies is only for the elite and not on a mass scale, it does not interest us. Ayuh Ventures Fund I was a proof-of-concept fund to showcase our playbook, and there remain systemic gaps in human longevity that we still need to address, which is why we recently decided to launch Ayuh Ventures Fund II. No one in their right mind creates a startup — founding a startup is not an easy endeavor. It can take a toll on your personal and family life, and that’s why we choose to invest in bold founders with whom we have a strong partnership. We believe that by working closely with the founders and taking board positions, we can help them achieve their longevity metrics. This is what excites us and drives us forward as we gear up for the first investment from Ayuh Ventures Fund II.
Notes from Eric: Starting Ayuh Ventures with Kunal is one of the most rewarding things that I have done in my life. That is because Ayuh Ventures invests in solutions to ailments for which existing treatment options remain inadequate, something I recognized first-hand going through my own health issues.
I was always a skinny, short guy, but by my Junior Year of high school I began losing weight drastically. Experiencing intense fatigue and abdominal pain, my doctors initially brushed off my complaints as stress from APs and the college application process. By the end of the school year, I was 5’7” and weighed 95 pounds before being correctly diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease and being rushed into emergency surgery to remove over two feet of my GI tract.
While I hoped I would get better after surgery and ongoing treatments with an immunosuppressant intravenous infusion therapy, my condition did not improve. My clinical inflammatory numbers remained high and symptoms and weight loss persisted. My gastroenterologist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles brought up the link between mind and body and suggested I look into alternative therapies as well — exercise, meditation, yoga, acupuncture. All of which I tried to no avail. Then I was enlightened with a solution by a high school classmate, of all people. They suggested I try cannabis, which a friend of theirs had used to treat their Crohn’s Disease. Having never tried cannabis despite already being an adult who grew up in Los Angeles, I was nervous to explore a field with such little accessible and digestible information to someone like me. Nevertheless, I tried it and within a month found myself putting on weight and in full remission. Flash forward to today — nearly a decade later, I have had no flare ups and have consistently been in remission while my inflammatory numbers are as low as the marker goes. While my doctor sees me as an incredible case of severe Crohn’s Disease being managed perfectly, my experience was far from perfect. From the pain medications after the surgery to my infusion drug, and particularly seeing how little doctors knew about the one thing that did successfully treat me, cannabis, I saw just how many treatment options were inadequate during my experience.
This inspired me to pivot my career into using novel ingredients to solve the world’s greatest challenges. Initially, I spent the last six years working in the cannabis world, trying to do what I could to expand its use to the masses. I saw and still do see it as a way to fix many of our health problems, including the opioid epidemic in this country, but joined up with Kunal and Prithvi Ventures two years ago applying my knowledge of novel ingredients to climate technologies via leading the fund’s bioeconomy investments. However, I knew then that I still wanted to continue working in human health. To this end, the opportunity for impact in cannabis became less about the medical prospects and more about the financial, and near-term adult-use/recreational markets. In the meantime, I heard so many stories about psychedelics that mirrored my own experience with cannabis and instead of leaning away with skepticism, I gladly jumped into the network of individuals working in that space. This led to Ayuh Ventures and our first investment into Beckley Psytech, in 2021.
We have since embedded ourselves into the psychedelic investment community and expanded our thesis beyond just investing in mental health, but in quality of life as a whole. Kunal and I have both experienced the pitfalls of illness and the holistic toll it takes on an individual. While we believe quality of life all starts with a sound mind, we seek to invest in all health technologies that improve one’s living experience on this planet and tend not to prioritize indications as we do novel technologies and platforms themselves with broad applications. That said, when we do look at indications, we are focused on under-researched, underfunded, and often incurable/not-yet-cured illnesses, particularly in indications around CNS/mental health, sexual health, female health, aging, and given my own personal struggles, inflammatory diseases.
To invest in these technologies is to take control of our own destinies. It is naive to believe that any of us can outrun disease even with the best science and standard-of-care today in 2022. It is humbling and an absolute joy to be able to invest in the next generation of treatment options for those who still have few to no options and look forward to the year ahead deploying from Ayuh Ventures Fund II.
The Problem as We See It at Ayuh: In recent decades, up to 50% of the global population has experienced some form of psychological distress, with an estimated 28% of the global population facing depression and similar numbers for anxiety, PTSD, and sleep problems. The COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns have exacerbated these issues, with an additional 25% of the global population experiencing anxiety and depression. Current treatments for a large segment of the population dealing with mental health disorders often have limited effectiveness and carry the risk of side effects.
Additionally, physical, motor, or sensory impairments can limit individuals’ ability to access all the advantages of an able-bodied lifestyle. These impairments can be caused by disabilities at/predisposition from birth, traumatic injury, or illness, and include neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, ALS, and multiple sclerosis, autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel diseases, and other disabilities like deafness, paralysis, and communication problems. Despite nearly 15% of the global population living with some form of these impairments and 10% of the world suffering from chronic pain, there are few effective and scalable treatment options available. This is also true for sexual and reproductive health, including conditions like dysmenorrhea, premenstrual dysphoric disorder, hypoactive sexual desire disorder, dyspareunia, anorgasmia, premature ejaculation, and delayed or inhibited ejaculation. Women’s sexual health is particularly overlooked, despite women making up around half of the global population. Approximately 30% of men globally deal with premature ejaculation, while up to 25% of women experience menstrual irregularities and up to 30% of women deal with severe dysmenorrhea symptoms.
Ayuh Ventures is dedicated to supporting founders and their innovative technologies that enhance the quality of our lives. Many of us at Ayuh Ventures have been affected by chronic illnesses and have seen firsthand the limitations of current treatment options. We are determined to improve the status quo and provide better care for those dealing with these diseases. Our mission is to find and support the most promising technologies that help us live happier, healthier lives.
Ayuh Ventures Strategy: We believe that a healthy mind and body are essential for a bright future. That’s why we focus on funding solutions to the world’s most pressing problems. Our team has been working towards this goal since we founded Ayuh Ventures in 2021. आयु / Ayuh, which means “longevity” or “a fruitful life” in Sanskrit, reflects our commitment to helping people live the lives they want. We recognize that there are many challenges that prevent people from enjoying good health, including psychological, neurological, physical, sensory, and sexual & reproductive health issues. Unfortunately, there are few effective treatments for these conditions. That’s why we’re determined to find and support innovative solutions that can help people overcome these challenges and live happier, healthier lives.
Ayuh Ventures was founded in June 2021, with our first investment in Beckley Psytech’s Series B round. Our goal was to showcase our expertise in deal sourcing and due diligence, and after several successful investments in the mental health space, we launched Ayuh Ventures Fund I in February 2022 with our first fund investment in Clerkenwell Health’s Pre-Seed+. Since then, we completely deployed Fund I to seven startups.
The Year Ahead for Ayuh Ventures: As part of our strategy to identify and support the most promising technologies in our core focus areas, Ayuh Ventures continues to build relationships with academic institutions. These partnerships allow us to enhance our deal flow pipeline and identify strong technical teams led by scientific founders. While we finished deploying capital from Fund I, we took up board positions at Pepper Bio and Samphire Neuroscience, and remain active and hands-on investors for our portfolio companies, working closely with them on business development, regulatory matters, and go-to-market strategy. We are also partnering with an organization to evaluate our longevity portfolio and ensure that it is aligned with our impact and equity goals.
Ayuh Ventures Fund I Reporting: We fully deployedAyuh Ventures Fund I in 2022, across seven startups:
Pepper Bio is a drug discovery and biology platform that uses transomics with phosphoproteomics to develop treatments based on the underlying biological drivers of diseases, starting with oncology, neurodegenerative, and inflammatory indications. This novel technology gives researchers a complete, real-time map of what happens in cells before and during disease. Ayuh Ventures Fund I invested in their Seed round in June 2022. Pepper Bio was founded by and CEO Jon Hu, formerly a consultant at Bain & Co. and Investor at Guild Capital, is a Harvard MBA and Northwestern University-trained biomedical engineer and economics major where he first met co-founder and CSO Samantha Dale Strasser, PhD, a former Churchill Scholar at the University of Cambridge and NSF Graduate Research Fellowship-backed PhD in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at MIT in the Lauffenburger Lab. Samantha’s graduate work built upon the body of research that underlies Pepper Bio’s platform. Pepper’s Head of Business Development, a PhD in Pathobiology, was strategically a Healthcare Equity Research Associate at Cowen and their Head of Biology, a PhD in Vascular Physiology, was a Senior Research Fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School in the Malhotra Lab.
Gilgamesh Pharmaceuticals is a drug discovery and neurocircuitry-focused platform for novel psychedelic-based treatments that currently has eight NCEs in its development pipeline with target indications for psychiatric disorders. Ayuh Ventures Fund I invested in their Series B round in May 2022. Gilgamesh Pharmaceuticals was founded by experts with decades of experience in both traditional biotech and pharmaceuticals as well as in academia. Gilgamesh CEO and co-founder Dr. Jonathan Sporn was previously Founder, President, CSO, and CEO at Perception Neuroscience, which was acquired by Atai Life Sciences and is Atai’s leading majority-owned asset currently in Phase 2 trials for r-ketamine. Dr. Sporn was previously a Senior Director at Pfizer and Director of Neurology and Psychiatry at Johnson & Johnson. Co-Founder and CSO Dr. Andrew Kruegel, PhD was previously the Co-Founder and President at Kures, also majority acquired by Atai Life Sciences. COO Yoni Falkson was a Co-Founder of SpringWorks Therapeutics ($2.8B market cap). He was also the Senior Director of New Products Marketing and Planning at Regeneron and Director of Global Commercial New Product Planning at Pfizer. The executive team that additionally includes a Chief Medical Officer, Chief Business Officer and Head of Research, Head of Biology, and Head of R&D Operations previously served in roles like Global Medical Lead for CNS at Astellas Pharma, Director of R&D at Bristol-Myers Squibb, Chief Scientific Officer of Psychiatric Disorders Discovery Biology at Eli Lilly, and Head of Search and Evaluation at Biogen. They also have a very impressive Scientific Advisory Board, including chairman Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman, MD, Chair of the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University School of Medicine.
Kanna Health is a pre-clinical biopharmaceutical company focused on developing a portfolio of novel compounds derived from the kanna plant, Sceletium tortuosum, starting with an on-demand treatment for premature ejaculation (PE). Ayuh Ventures Fund I invested in their Pre-Seed+ round in June 2022. Kanna Health was founded by repeat and first-mover psychedelic entrepreneurs CEO John Boghossian, former Director of Operations and Business Development at Compass Pathways and ● former CEO at Quercis Pharma, along with Chairman Lars Wilde, former CEO, President, and Co-Founder at Compass Pathways, and Co-Founder of Atai Life Sciences, two of the largest psychedelics companies in the world. The company’s Chief IP Officer and General Counsel is Dr. Chris Hayes was previously Associate General Counsel at Jazz Pharmaceuticals and Vice President of Intellectual Property at GW Pharmaceuticals, leading their IP strategy around leading cannabis-derived drug, Epidiolex, acquired by Jazz Pharmaceuticals for $7.2B. Kanna’s Director of Pharmacology Dr. Roy Gray also comes from GW Pharmaceuticals as GW’s previous Director of Preclinical Pharmacology as does Board Member Adam George, former GW Pharmaceutical CFO, Managing Director, and Head of R&D.
Samphire Neuroscience is a neurotechnology company developing and commercializing a wearable medical device that uses transcranial direct current stimulation along with a companion app to treat symptoms of dysmenorrhea and PMDD. Ayuh Ventures Fund I invested in their Seed round in April and doubled-down in August. Samphire was founded by CEO Emilé Radyté, a summa cum laude Harvard University graduate in neuroscience and social anthropology and current Neurobiology and Neuroscience PhD candidate at the University of Oxford, and co-founder and COO Alex Cook, a former IP attorney at Herbert Smith Freehills who was previously part of the founding team at Bamboo, acquired by Digital Capital Management. The team’s scientific advisors include the Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry and Co-Director and Center for the Neurosciences at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Stanley Cobb Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and global leaders in the fields of chronic pain and electrophysical neuromodulation. They also have employees managing clinical development, hardware engineering, software engineering data science, UX/UI, design, and community.
Lief Therapeutics is a remote monitoring startup that has developed and deployed an FDA approved, revenue generating, high accuracy wearable Heart Rate Variability (HRV) monitor and app for biofeedback training for mental health. Ayuh Ventures first invested in Lief via SPV in 2021 and doubled down with an investment in their Seed+ round from Ayuh Ventures Fund I. Lief Therapeutics was founded by CEO Rohan Dixit, a Northwestern University-trained cognitive neuroscientist and former neuroscience researcher in functional imaging at Stanford University and then Harvard University’s Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging. He is supported by Chief Medical Officer Dr. Ron Gharbo, global expert in HRV and Director of Cardiac & Wellness Integration at VCU Health as well as Chief Technology Office Dr. Rod Chin, medical device expert, CSO at Raydiant Oximetry, and formerly Sr. Scientist/Manager at Medtronic, Abbott, and ZEISS Medical Technology, in addition to the rest of the software, hardware, and customer success teams.
Psy Therapeutics is a pre-clinical biopharmaceutical company focused on developing a portfolio of novel small molecule therapeutics to treat generalized anxiety disorder, major depressive disorder, anxious depression, PTSD, chronic pain, Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimer’s Disease, and other tauopathies. Ayuh Ventures Fund I invested in their Seed+ round in April 2022. Psy Therapeutics was co-founded by Dr. Jerry Rosenbaum, Stanley Cobb Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and Psychiatrist-in-Chief emeritus and Director of the Center for the Neuroscience of Psychedelics at Massachusetts General Hospital, and Dr. Maurizio Fava, Slater Family Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and Psychiatrist-in-Chief at Massachusetts General Hospital, global leaders in the fields of neuroscience, depression, anxiety, and other psychiatric disorders. CEO and Chairman David Barlow was previously on the Board of Trustees McLean Hospital (Harvard Medical School teaching hospital and their largest psychiatric facility), Chairman and and CEO of Molecular Insight Pharmaceuticals (acquired by Progenics), and President of Sepracor Pharma, now Sunovion ($2B+ valuation) while CSO Alan Cross was the Chief Scientist at AstraZeneca Neuroscience and Senior Director at AstraZeneca.
Clerkenwell Health is building the commercial infrastructure to bring psychedelic-assisted therapeutic candidates and technologies to market. They are Europe’s first clinical research organization for psychedelic-assisted therapy trials. Ayuh Ventures Fund I invested in their Pre-Seed+ round in March 2022. The team at Clerkenwell Health was founded by CEO Tom McDonald (previously at IQVIA and Accenture Life Sciences) and co-founder Sam Lewis (previously at Hanway Associates and PwC) and includes the former Science and Communication Officer at Beckley Psytech Dr. Henry Fisher as CSO, former Medical Director at Astellas, Abbott Labs, and Norgine, Dr. Emilio Arbe as CMO, as well as the former Head of Clinical Program Development at Compass Pathways as Principal Investigator.
Since we began our longevity journey in 2021, we built a strong portfolio of 7 startups from Fund I in 2022 working fearlessly to develop solutions. Despite the challenging economic environment, we continue to deploy capital regularly and are using this opportunity to challenge ourselves to better understand how we can add the most value and generate even greater returns for our stakeholders, our LPs & Founders. For further information or if you liked what you read so far and are interested in learning more about our approach to investing in longevity, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Kunal Sethi, General Partner
Eric Brook, Partner
Vivek Soni, Member
Parkins Burger, Legal