Sierra’s Bill Andrews believes greater investment in curing aging could deliver a solution for telomere shortening in under three years.
In the field of longevity, Dr Bill Andrews is widely recognised for his work to understand and overcome aging, particularly in the area of telomere shortening. The founder of Sierra Sciences, who led the research to discover the genetic components of telomerase and subsequently developed a gene therapy based on the enzyme, has long been one of the leading voices calling for aging to be treated as a curable disease.
Longevity.Technology: Andrews has developed a “strategic plan” that he believes will enable humanity to conquer aging. While still a work in progress, it is the development of this plan that guides the direction of Sierra Sciences. We caught up with Andrews to discuss his views on how to make curing aging a reality.
While Andrews remains a strong proponent of the potential of telomerase therapies to target aging, he acknowledges that the answers may come from a range of areas.
“I think there’s a good chance that telomere shortening is not the only problem, we need to work on the other problems too,” he says. “I focused on telomeres, not because I believe that’s the only cause of aging, but because I believe we will never really cure aging until we’ve also solved the telomere shortening problem.”
More longevity funding needed
Andrews is enthused by the scientific research that has been conducted on aging to date, but believes more could be done with more resources.
“A lot of very smart people have been leading the way in antiaging research, and have built up and done a lot of the pioneering work to set the background for what’s going on now,” he says. “I don’t think anybody has any real solutions yet, but we have all the strategies on how to attack all the possible explanations for aging. The big problem is the funding.
“The scientists know exactly what to do. We’ve got the most brilliant minds in the world working on this right now. They don’t know how to cure aging yet, but they know all the different things they need to do to fill in the gaps to answer all the unanswered questions. It just needs funding.”
$50m to solve telomere shortening
So how quickly could the answers to those questions be found, if funding wasn’t a factor?
“I believe that if we had the appropriate amount of funding, there’s a really good chance that we could have a solution for the telomere shortening problem in one to three years,” says Andrews. “I don’t mean something that could be sold, but in three years, I believe I would have something that actually stopped aging in human cells in a petri dish. I don’t mean that’s going to make us immortal – we’re not curing death, we’re curing aging.”
Andrews has a fairly clear idea of what kinds of funding it would take to get Sierra to that critical point in its work on telomere shortening.
“I always say it will take a minimum of $50 million,” he says. “With that in the bank, I could recruit all the people that I need and get the research done.”
Seeking partners, not investors
Funding his work at Sierra is clearly Andrews’ main focus at the moment. The company was well-funded in its early days, but after investment dried up after the 2008 financial crisis, its research has been largely halted. Rather than seek new investors, Andrews has a different idea for how to move the company forward.
“I’ve since acquired 100% of the company, and I’m trying to keep it that way,” he explains. “I keep getting these millionaires making offers to invest in the company, but they want 80% ownership. I don’t want to go back to where somebody else is controlling the science again. I’ve got to have to control because I’m obsessed with curing aging, not just trying to make a buck.
“So I am not seeking investment funding for Sierra Sciences, but I am looking for investment funding from subsidiaries and/or partners that might be interested in marketing some of our discoveries.”
In addition to the telomerase gene therapy developed by Sierra, Andrews is talking about a host of other related discoveries made in the company’s labs, which could be licensed and taken forward by partners, including both pharmaceutical and nutraceutical compounds.
“We are already generating royalties from several companies selling nutraceuticals,” says Andrews. “And we have companies in Australia, New Zealand, Korea and Japan, currently selling pharmaceuticals that they got approved.”
Looking ahead, Andrews is now focused on bringing in more partners in order to generate enough royalties to allow Sierra to get back to doing the additional research needed to achieve its goal of curing aging.