The latest set of podcasts from SAGE Crossroads examine the pharmaceutical industry point of view on aging research, which from a technical perspective basically boils down to building drugs to slow down aging by manipulating metabolism. For example, calorie restriction mimetics are presently hot, but are not the be-all and end-all of this field.
So I suppose I should start with this podcast, as it quickly illustrates some very important points to bear in mind when listening to anything on the topic of the pharmaceutical industry in the US.
Dr. Michelle Dipp offers up an industry perspective on treating the symptoms of aging with drugs. She feels that the biggest challenges to the development of these medicines are scientific rather than rooted in policy, but she exudes confidence that we will tackle the problems of aging with pharmaceuticals in the near future.
Now bear in mind that (a) Dipp works for Sirtris, a company bought by GlaxoSmithKline, b) the FDA will not approve medicines to treat aging, as its bureaucrats do not classify aging as a condition to be treated, c) the FDA's regulatory reach has a hideous counterproductive effect on all progress in medicine, and d) the founders of Sirtris themselves have said this on the topic of regulation:
Why, despite the great range of potential applicable biotechnology, do we not see hundreds of millions of dollars invested in startups attempting to address the aging process? The answer is buried in this New York Times article on Sirtris: "Dr. Westphal and Mr. Sinclair stress that they are not working to 'cure' aging, a condition that, so far at least, is common to all humanity and that most physicians do not consider a disease. 'Curing aging is not an endpoint the federal drug agency would recognize,' Dr. Westphal says dryly. Instead, both men say, they are working to ameliorate the diseases of aging."
The big pharmaceutical companies are like any big company in a market dominated by government regulation rather than competition. In public they have to play the game in which you say that regulation is wonderful, and in private you use the system of regulation to make it very hard for new and disruptive competitors (meaning people who are striving to better serve customers and develop better products) to change your market in ways that inconvenience your profit margin. Progress is stifled. The rest of us have to suffer, sigh, and mentally shift all public representatives of companies in that market into the "politician, assume everything said is a self-serving lie" bucket.
Anyway, that said, the other two podcasts bear a look:
LARRY MILLER: [When] I was heading aging at Glaxo Smith Kline, the issues that I faced were that I was very interested in developing medications for frailty and weakness in muscle for when people get old because when people get weak they usually stop eating and then they fall and break a hip and end up in the hospital and die potentially, but the regulatory apparatus isn’t there yet. Sarcopenia isn’t recognized as an official disease by the FDA, so the pathway to get drugs approved for frailty and to get more people mobile and into society is just not there
KYLE JENSEN: Now is getting the FDA to recognize these conditions, is this just a matter of lobbying them to expand their horizons or is there a better way to approach it?
WILLIAM EVANS: Exactly. I think there are a number of ways to approach it. One is to lobby. It is clear that public pressure helps to make the FDA think about some of these issues. I think that we are working with some of the professional societies like the Geriatric Society of America to also come to some agreement and consensus. Also what the FDA, I think, really likes to see with regard with potential new indications is not just consensus from the scientific community but also consensus from professional organizations, and I think that we are working towards that right now.
KYLE JENSEN: So do you see much hope in the next 5 years of getting some of these regulations changed?
I hope I'm not the only one who sees nothing but madness and waste in a system of development in which you have to spend years and countless dollars just to get permission to build better medical technology. The Soviet method of development - and look how well that worked! - is alive and well in the US medical regulatory establishment. It would be funny if we weren't all going to suffer greatly because of it.