Targeting ‘zombie cells’


Lewis Gruber, who’s turning 70 this year, says he has no plans on dying.

Well, that’s not entirely true. The biotech entrepreneur has prepared a will. And when pressed on exactly how long he expects to live, he replied calmly, “Something on the order of 120 I wouldn’t think would be out of the realm of possibility.”

Gruber is the co-founder and chief scientific officer of SIWA Therapeutics, a Chicago biotech startup focused on “anti-aging.” The company is developing a drug that aims to cure a variety of aging-related diseases by targeting senescent cells. Senescent cells, sometimes referred to as “zombie cells,” stop dividing and repairing tissue. They can accumulate in the body and feed tumor growth and interfere with the body’s natural ability to repair itself.

SIWA says it has discovered a monoclonal antibody, called SIWA 318H, that selectively binds to and removes both senescent cells and cancer cells. The startup will initially focus its therapy on cancer, specifically pancreatic cancer to start, and believes it has the potential to become the first comprehensive cancer therapy to reduce cancer cells as well as the senescent cells that feed tumor growth.

SIWA, which is currently in the pre-clinical stage, hopes to tackle a range of different cancers and other aging-related diseases, like breast cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s and ALS.