When Nir Barzilai researched the science of anti-aging 30 years ago, it was nothing more than a fantasy. Now, the Israeli-American scientist believes that the world is on track to make this hope come true, finding drugs that block the effects of aging.
“We’re past the days of hope and promise. They’re halfway between promise and realization,” said Barzilai, director of the Institute on Aging Research at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.
He plans to run a large trial to see if a common diabetes drug, metformin, can extend life by many years, following a promising UK study.
If regulators approve metformin for anti-aging purposes, he believes big biotech and pharmaceutical companies will flock to the field. “Once we prove it, I think it’s going to be an earth-shaking moment,” Barzilai said.
Although death is inevitable, we can learn how to prevent it. Science has found ways to increase life expectancy, initially with conventional measures such as vaccinations, then with new drugs to treat chronic conditions such as heart disease. In the UK, life expectancy nearly doubled between 1841 and 2011.
But as more people go through the end of their lives in poor health, scientists like Barzilai are finding ways to not only increase life expectancy, but also health, which is helping to increase the number of years we live healthy. .
Longevity researchers dismiss the argument that they are “curing death,” but their vision has the potential to alleviate some of the major problems of this age. That is, health costs rise for people whose health declines as they age and labor productivity declines as people age.
However, Barzilai is still seeking funding to carry out the trial, which could take four to six years and cost $50-75 million. He received $22 million, including $9 million from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Finding the key to longevity will benefit all of us, but capital is hard to find. Healthcare investors often want to see short-term returns, but this is not possible in the case of metformin because its patent has long since expired. Governments prioritize research on diseases.
Tech billionaires have quickly filled this “gap”, including Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Israeli businessman Yuri Milner and Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. Barzilai hopes to present some ideas to these wealthy investors during the longevity event.
However, critics fear that if wealthy individuals prevail, future advances could create an elite that will not create new generations but old people.
Turn back the biological clock
As the field of longevity research began to expand, scientists asked the most fundamental question: What is aging? In 2013, an influential group identified nine markers of aging, the genetic and biochemical processes that lead to functional decline and potentially death.
Eric Verdin, executive director of the Buck Institute for Research and Aging in California, says scientists have completely changed the way they think about aging. From assuming it’s a passive process, to learning how to change it yourself. Ultimately, a breakthrough could be simply stopping the body from responding to chronic diseases that cause death. According to him, the biggest risk factors for aging diseases are not cholesterol or smoking but age.
James Peyer, chief executive officer of Cambrian Biopharma, which invests in aging research companies, says the field’s “morning star” is creating a new generation of preventive drugs. He believes that the drug has many of the same effects on human health as vaccines and antibiotics.
Scientists have made the important discovery that it is possible to reverse the biological clock at the cellular level, using “rejuvenation factors” that create the ability to reverse disease.
Another cause is aging cells that accumulate in the elderly causing health problems. Scientists at the American Mayo Clinic discovered that if senescent cells were allowed to die in a mouse, they would stay healthy and live 20 to 30 percent longer. But so far, most of these discoveries have been made in animals.
Testing these hypotheses in humans will present major challenges, as it will take a long time to see if people taking the drug will live longer. The researchers also had to adapt their trials to existing regulations, which treat aging as not a disease. They must target specific diseases, although some hope to be more widely applicable.
While Barzilai thinks metformin has the potential to prolong life, his trial will aim to show that the drug delays several groups of diseases, including stroke, heart failure, cancer and dementia as well. like death. By far, the biggest obstacle has been making enough money to fund large trials.
When Rick Klauser started raising money for Altos Labs, he prepared a lengthy presentation for investors. Instead of reaching out to potential shareholders with a list of projects and deadlines, the former director of the National Cancer Institute hopes they will invest in what he calls “the engine of discovery.”
His idea was that Altos would hire the best talent in the industry, including former GSK chief science officer Hal Barron as CEO. He expects them to work more collaboratively than academically, tackling the big issues surrounding cell rejuvenation with the ambition to reverse disease.
The company then raised $3 billion, a life sciences record, in a funding round led by Arch Venture Partners and reportedly with contributions from Bezos and Milner. According to Barron, this amount will allow them to fail many times in pursuit of their goals.
Altos, launched in early 2022, is by far the best known experiment in anti-aging science. The first startup was Calico Life Science, part of Alphabet, founded in 2013, where Barron used to lead research.
Robert Nelsen, co-founder of Arch Venture Partners, said the company just wants to find long-term investors. His group of investors can hold shares of Altos for 10-15 years if needed, though he believes investors will see value sooner.
Jonathan Lewis, Calico’s CBO, says the “funding money” from Alphabet since his time as Google helped the company focus on a niche area of biology when it launched in 2013. Since then, Calico has been received funding from both the pharmaceutical company AbbVie. They are receiving investment commitments of $3.5 billion from both Alphabet and AbbVie. Calico currently has three potential drugs in early clinical trials.
Many conventional venture capitalists are entering the field, but they focus on companies that are testing the principles of anti-aging science more broadly in specific trials that can produce drugs faster. . However, the step-by-step approach can be slower, and if the first test fails, that company could suffer.
Mehmood Khan is the CEO of the Hevolution Foundation, a non-profit organization specializing in longevity research that the Saudi royal family has committed to invest $1 billion a year. Their vision, he said, is to prolong healthy life, for the benefit of humanity, to ensure that the life expectancy gap between the rich and the poor doesn’t get worse.
Refer to FT