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A year in Longevity: science perspectives

Longevity leaders on the key issues facing our sector.

Over the past year, we’ve had the pleasure of speaking to some of the Longevity sector’s most influential people. From expert views on biomarkers and interventions, the definition of biological age, the secret to healthy aging, or AI and COVID-19, we’ve put together some of our favourites.

Frankly, there are too many to select from, so we’re running a series of reflective articles over the seasonal break.

Maybe 2021 will see the formation of its first Longevity Unicorn? More likely 2022, with what we’re seeing, but it’ll be an exciting year; of that, there is no doubt.

Brian Kennedy on biomarkers and interventions

Brian Kennedy

In January we spoke Dr Brian Kennedy, Distinguished Professor at the National University of Singapore, who spoke about his work developing new interventions to target human aging and to validate whether they work or not.

“We spend a lot of money measuring things like cholesterol and hyperglycaemia but aging is a much bigger risk factor for everything than those things,” he told us. “So why aren’t we measuring it?”

“I think to get the biggest impact we need to know not just what age you are, but to understand how resilient you are and to figure out which pathways you’re most sensitive to so that we can ultimately tailor interventions to be optimal. And that’s where we’re working toward in the long run.”

Richard Siow on COVID-19 and AI

Spring arrived and with it the horror of the coronavirus pandemic. As countries around the world shut down to try and combat its spread, scientists worked on solutions. Dr Richard Siow of King’s College London spoke to us about the virus, its implications for Longevity, and how AI can play a role.

Siow proposed taking a more personalised approach to prevention, which is one of the goals of his Longevity AI Consortium.

“We can’t go through another healthcare crisis, so what can we do now to enhance our resilience, especially in the elderly population and those with pre-existing conditions, to reduce the severity of the symptoms and hence improve longevity?” he asked.

Steve Horvath on defining biological age

Study finds that DNA methylation GrimAge clock can predict an individual’s lifespan and healthspan with accuracy.

April was a busy month with our Longevity 2020 Digital Conference, and we also spoke with UCLA professor, Steve Horvath, the inventor of the epigenetic clock. He told us about the development of his methylation clocks, the dangers of misinterpretation, and the need for standardisation.

“It would be my dream that, one day, the molecular biomarkers of aging would be approved by the FDA as a surrogate endpoint for aging studies,” he told us. “This is what the entire field wants, it’s the Holy Grail. And it would be nice if the epigenetic clocks would be part of that solution.”

Thomas Rando on healthy aging

Tom Rando

August was also Healthy Aging Month and, to get some perspective on the topic, we spoke to Stanford’s Dr Thomas Rando, best known for his research demonstrating that factors in young serum can directly reverse many aspects of cellular and tissue aging.

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So what is the secret to healthy aging?  Rando told us that most work into anti-aging interventions, from supplements to drugs, is essentially aiming to mimic the effect of some fairly simple ideas.

“You know, after all these years of work, it’s diet and exercise,” he told us. “Because fundamentally what we’re doing with diet and exercise is adjusting our metabolism back to what we were evolved to be. We weren’t evolved to sit in front of computers all day, we weren’t evolved to have food whenever we want it. Our natural metabolism is based on a lifestyle in which we’re active all day, and we’re hungry most of the time. And nobody wants to do that!”

Aubrey de Grey on the challenges of being public

Project 21 & Aubrey de Grey

Around this time last year, we spoke with Dr Aubrey de Grey, founder and Chief Science Officer of SENS Research Foundation and member of our Advisory Panel, who told us that Longevity companies should exercise caution when considering going public.

Citing examples of company stocks that have suffered at the hands of public investors, de Grey didn’t hold back when it came to his views on how informed investors are about the science of Longevity.

“To me, this is all about investors who are competing with other investors and who do not care about the actual science and the actual long term prospects of the company,” he says. “These are people who are short-selling because they think someone’s going to run out of money or they think someone’s going to look as though they’re going to run out of money.”

João Pedro de Magalhães on investment and science trends

João Pedro de Magalhães is Professor at the Institute of Ageing and Chronic Disease at the University of Liverpool and also a member of our Advisory Panel; he told us: “I still think there’s a lot we need to do in terms of educating investors, yes, although of course there are now more investors and some of them are more knowledgeable about Longevity and aging. Nonetheless, still lots of work to do and your efforts in this are very much appreciated.

We also discussed trends in the science of Longevity:  Immunotherapy is very much focused on cancer, and I don’t think it’s going to go away any time soon. Senolytics are fashionable now, but they weren’t sometime ago, so they may come and go, hard to say. And there will likely be other pharmacological interventions that will be of interest and may become more popular down the line. I think gene therapy will grow in popularity, actually, it’s still not very mainstream.”

Alex Zhavoronkov on investors

COVIDomic is an open access tool to stratify risk and severity from multimodal data sets ,including multi-omics data.

Dr Alex Zhavoronkov is the CEO and co-founder of Insilico Medicine, the pioneering artificial intelligence company powering innovation in the biopharmaceutical sector. Talking about his company’s 2020 fundraise, he told us:

“If you look at our investor base, you’ll see several companies specialising in biotech investing — AI and IT. Some of the investors are the top players in chemical synthesis, and biological research, as well as some strategic investors in the longevity space such as Juvenescence. All of them understand how the business and the industry works; they essentially help us set the pace.

Most of the investors are interested in Insilico from the drug discovery angle and not because of our focus on Longevity. The big biotechnology funds are typically interested in something more established, so they’re not as much interested in Longevity as they are in drug discovery, pharmaceuticals and AI. In our case, we are very lucky to be selling picks and shovels not only to support the gold rush in Longevity, but also supporting the pharmaceutical drug discovery and development.”

Happy Christmas everyone: get ready for 2021 – it’s gonna be BIG!

 

Image by PIRO4D from Pixabay

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Danny Sullivan
Contributing Editor Danny has worked in technology communications for more than 15 years, spanning Europe and North America. From bionics and lasers to software and pharmaceuticals – and everything in between – he’s covered it all. Danny has wide experience of technology publishing and technical writing and has specific interest in the transfer from idea to market.
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