I had just yesterday mentioned one of the ventures that researcher Alex Zhavoronkov is involved in, and today I hear that he and a team are launching In Silico Medicine in the US. No doubt the announcement was pushed forward to benefit from publicity associated with the recent launch of Human Longevity, as both groups are in the same business: the application of computing power, data analysis, and new genetic technologies to make inroads into treating aging.
Thus everything I said about Human Longevity applies here too. A great deal will be achieved in many areas of medical science through advances in genetics, but it doesn't seem likely to me that meaningfully extending healthy life spans over the next few decades will be among the plausible outcomes of genetic advances that focus on gathering and analyzing genetic data. Beyond a few very narrow and targeted applications, such as mitochondrial DNA repair or rescue, genetic and epigenetic engineering do not have much of a presence in a rejuvenation research portfolio focused on damage repair. Instead, genetics is the primary tool for slowing aging through manipulation of the operation of metabolism, a goal that is going to be very, very challenging and expensive to achieve safely. Even then that path cannot produce great gains in life span in the near term of the next few decades, and will not prove beneficial to people who are already old. So given the choice between rejuvenation and slowing aging, we should focus on rejuvenation. It should be more easily created, and requires only incremental new research rather than massive across-the-board advances in knowledge and biotechnology to achieve.
But these are all well worn arguments, made many times at Fight Aging! Clearly a lot of money is going to pour into work at the intersection of genetics and aging regardless of what think on the matter, and as I note above, the likely outcome is that noteworthy benefits will be realized in many areas of medicine. Just not, I expect, in human longevity. Here is a little from Zhavoronkov via email, and a pointer to the press materials for the launch of his company:
I got interested in aging when I was still a child and even before school was looking for ways to combat aging venturing from nutraceuticals and yoga to pharmaceuticals and neuroinformatics. Like many of you, when I met Aubrey de Grey, my life changed for the better as I saw his first comprehensive strategy to combat aging. But Aubrey's brilliant projects are stretched in time and we need to have a medium-term plan to be able to live until they bear dramatic longevity benefits. In Silico Medicine will help find these medium-term solutions and may even help with SENS research going forward by looking for molecules that activate the various endogenous mechanisms that are involved in damage repair. We would like to stand with Calico and Human Longevity Inc that recently stepped out to pursue a similar goal.
One of the reasons why pharmaceutical companies failed to develop business models for increasing productive human longevity is because human lifespans are much longer than that of the many model organisms and it takes decades to evaluate the effects of any drug. Some of the known drugs have been on the market for many decades and only recently scientists started finding clues to their oncoprotective, cardioprotective and geroprotective effects. Moreover, many drugs that work on model organisms including mice do not have the same effects in humans. There is an urgent need for intelligent systems that will cost-effectively predict the effectiveness of the many drugs on the population, but also on the individual levels.
"We built our platform on years of experience of a large international team who specialize in using gene expression data from individual patient's tumor to predict the effectiveness of targeted compounds and improve clinical decision making. We are reinventing this system for drug discovery in cancer and aging," said Alex Zhavoronkov, PhD, the CEO of In Silico Medicine. "The recent wave of startups looking to employ big data to find solutions for aging, including Google's Calico and Human Longevity, should give everyone hope that we may see the time when both the medical institutions and pharmaceutical companies will start saving lives so every human being on the planet will benefit."
Since 2008 the In Silico Medicine research team worked hard to develop a comprehensive database of tissue-specific gene expression profiles from a large number of healthy patients, who lost their lives in accidents. This database was thoroughly analyzed, categorized and annotated. In parallel, we constructed multiple databases of gene expression from many cancer biopsies, before and after treatment. We developed tools to map gene expression data onto signaling pathways and developed algorithms for evaluating the individual pathway activation strengths and to analyze and measure the state of the overall signaling pathway cloud.
We then developed an annotated database of just over 150 targeted compounds acting on various molecular targets and network elements. We developed another set of algorithms to evaluate the activity of these drugs on the signaling pathway cloud to predict the effectiveness of these drugs on each patient's tumor. This research laid the foundation for the development of the OncoFinder, which was purchased by and is now the flagship product of the Hong Kong-based, Pathway Pharmaceuticals, the main research and business partner of In Silico Medicine.
In Silico Medicine took the concept of OncoFinder further, but instead of the normal and cancer cells, we evaluate the effects of various drugs on the pathway cloud constructed from gene expression and epigenetic data from cells taken from the old patients with those taken from the young patients with the intent to bring the state of the "old cells" as close to the signaling pathway cloud activation profile of the young cells.