A New Health Advancement Is Trying To Put An End To Aging
A drug in the clinical testing stage could potentially extend people's lives by a quarter
There are dozens of legends discussing the fountain of youth, thanks to the human obsession with finding immortality. Staying youthful and living longer is a very common interest among the human race. If there was a drug that could stop the aging process and extend your life, would you take it? This question may no longer be hypothetical for long. Testing on a brand new drug has proved successful in extending the life of its animal hosts without negative side effects. In the very near future, they’ll be testing the drug on humans. It all started when a drug company named Novartis gave low doses of the everolimus drug to a randomly selected group of 65-plus aged participants. The goal was to see if the drug could make flu vaccines more effective. As a direct result of the drug administration, efficacy rose by 20 percent.
The success of this drug had scientists wondering: Could similar agents be used to slow the effects of aging? It opened a whole new discussion about the potential anti-aging effects of everolimus, and the flu shot study became known as the “first human aging trial,” according to the study report.
Following the publication of this report, Novartis partnered with another testing company called PureTech Health in Boston. PureTech Health began testing two drug molecules together: everolimus and a derivative of rapamycin, a bacterium from Rapa Nui, Easter Island. Rapamycin is commonly used in medication to boost the immune system and has been touted to have limited anti-aging effects, so it seemed like a logical component to the recipe for anti-aging serum.
Tests have been done on mice to see if it would slow the aging process and extend the life of its host with high success.
“Over the last three decades, aging research has made great strides,” the study reports.
“At least in non-vertebrate animal models such as yeast and worms, it is possible to extend lifespan through reduced or ablated expression of hundreds of genes. The number of genes tested in mice are substantially less but the data so far is consistent with modulation of aging by numerous genes and pathways. More importantly, evidence exists that many of these genetic interventions extend healthspan and protect against the onset of age-associated chronic diseases.”
On average, the mice tested lived 25 percent longer than average for the species. The next step is testing the drug, which has shown very few negative side effects, on more complicated vertebrate animals like dogs. Some studies have already begun, but it will take a few years of testing before we can move on to human clinical trials.
“It doesn’t make them immortal, but it’s pretty good,” David Harrison of the Jackson Laboratory, who participates in the Intervention Testing Program, an effort of the National Institute on Aging, told MIT Technology Review. Harrison was a huge part of anti-aging trials with mice. “It’s the most exciting intervention that we have. It also works at any age, and that makes it interesting,” Harrison noted, referring to mice tested.
Researchers are anxious to begin testing on humans within the next decade after they’ve tried the drug on more complicated species like dogs. Unfortunately, it may yet be decades before the testing proves accurate in extending the life of human beings. Researchers can try the drugs on elderly participants, but they must wait years to get the results. It could be decades if the drug maximizes life in humans by 25 percent like it did in mice.
Additionally, there are many variables in the study that make it difficult to accurately predict results. Illnesses, genetics, lifestyle choices, and similar factors can affect the results of each human in the test. It would have to be tested on thousands of participants, who are closely monitored for several years, if not decades, to see if the effects of slowed aging are real.
“No one has the stomach to do longevity studies,” says Brian Kennedy, aging researcher at the Buck Institute, identifying a key problem with potential clinical trials.
Still, the results from both animal trials and the human everolimus studies on the elderly have shown promising conclusions. Kennedy also says that if researchers follow Novartis’s footsteps and were to focus on a single component of aging (immune strength) rather than aging as a whole, it could be a brilliant strategy for finding the legendary fountain of youth.
Novartis has sold their research to PureTech Health and plans to let them do the remainder of the testing. Joseph Bolen, chief scientific officer of PureTech, says they plan to pick up right where Novartis left off, and he has high hopes for the drug they’re planning to test.
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Jared is partner at Pioneer Fund, a a venture fund that pools capital and expertise from 170+ Y Combinator alumni to make diversified investments in select YC companies. He is also founder and CEO of Crowd Med, a company that has raised over $4M in venture capital to date from several top-tier Silicon Valley venture funds to solve difficult medical cases.
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