Aging R&D takes center stage at BIO-Europe®

October 17, 2016 Guest Contributor

Guest post by John Carroll, Co-Founder and Editor of Endpoints

Last spring I was fascinated to read a story about seniors lobbying to get into a study that was being created to examine the impact metformin has on aging. One of the biotech execs I know has been taking metformin in a kind of n=1 study of his own. And in a recent Forbes interview, Arch Venture Partners’ Robert Nelsen included the generic diabetes drug in his own personal recipe of drugs, vitamins and supplements aimed at spurring a longer, better life.

Nelsen doesn’t just pursue this as his own personal passion, he also invests the VC’s money in the field, backing Unity Biotech, which is at the very beginning stages of developing therapies that can safely sweep away aging, or senescent, cells that start to clutter the body. (No easy task.)

I talked to Unity CEO Nathaniel David about that work back in February and vividly recall him excitedly pointing me to a picture of two mice, one quite youthful looking—after treatment—and the other looking like he was ready for the Golden Years Senior Center for Rodents. 

“Now,” he said, “which one of these mice would you rather be?”

Unity and the big Google biotech startup Calico are just a couple of prominent examples of this incipient trend, as a growing number of investors and investigators launch ambitious efforts to tackle aging. I spent some time at a conference in Saint Petersburg earlier in the year at the invitation of Alex Zhavoronkov, the co-founder of Insilico Medicine, and was fascinated by the discussion that centered on aging R&D.

There’s clearly already a tremendous amount of research work underway in academia.

To be sure, aging research is still in its early stages, as far as biotech is concerned. Much of it is preclinical with plenty of hurdles ahead. The FDA, for example, is going to have to revamp the regulatory framework on studies in order to help researchers make a more concerted effort on goals like living to 120, and really enjoying that last 10 years rather than merely surviving it. But it’s definitely a field on the upswing. In a few years, I believe we’ll see a critical mass of research projects and significant clinical progress toward drugs aimed directly at a longer, healthier life.

After that, I suspect some of the dreamers in the field have some fairly radical ideas of how far this can go.

So you can imagine how much I’m looking forward to a further discussion on this topic at BIO-Europe® in Cologne, Germany in early November. I’ll be moderating a panel discussion November 7 with Adam Antebi, director of the Max Planck Institute for Biology of Ageing, Peter-Andreas Loeschmann, senior medical director in Germany for Pfizer, Sylvie Bove, the CEO of EIT Health, and Gregor MacDonald, the senior director of neuroscience for Janssen Business Development. If you get a chance, I hope you can join us for what promises to be a lively discussion.

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