The Present Mainstream of Longevity Science: Genetics, Drug Development, and Metabolic Manipulation

This article talks generally about the current directions in aging research and recent developments while managing to entirely avoid mention of SENS-style rejuvenation research. Reading this you'd think that the only possible approach to aging involves altering our metabolism to work in a different way so as to slow down aging, and that periodic repair of damage without altering metabolism to reverse aging doesn't even exist as an idea.

The focus is on Calico Labs and Human Longevity, Inc., but a range of other topics are covered. With one or two exceptions this is essentially a list of technologies and approaches that I don't expect to produce either meaningful treatments to extend life or ways to reverse the consequences of aging in the old. It is new paint on the existing investigation of the fine details of exactly how young tissue becomes old tissue. Obtaining that knowledge is the scientific impulse, and should indeed be accomplished, but the applications of it in the near term won't result in ways to meaningfully move the needle on human longevity. Look at the much-hyped sirtuin research over the past fifteen years for a preview of the next decade of research into the genetics and metabolic changes of longevity: the generation of a mountain of data that probably helps to inform some areas of medical development, but no life extending treatments, and no reasonable expectation of producing anything except a very expensive way to slightly slow down the aging process even in the best possible success case.

The quest to end aging, rife with bizarre and doomed therapies, is perhaps as old as humanity itself. And even though researchers today have more sophisticated tools for studying aging, the hunt for drugs to prevent human decay has still seen many false leads. Now, the field hopes to improve its track record with the entrance of two new players, Calico, which launched in September 2013, and Human Longevity, which entered the stage six months later. South San Francisco-based Calico, founded by Google with an initial commitment of at least $250 million, boasts an all-star slate of biotechnology industry leaders. Human Longevity was founded by genome pioneer Craig Venter and hopes to use a big data approach to combat age-related disease.

The involvement of high-profile names from outside the aging field - and the deep pockets of a funder like Google - have inspired optimism among longevity researchers. "For Google to say, 'This is something I'm putting a lot of money into,' is a boost for the field. There's a tremendous amount of excitement. "We've made inroads over the past 20 years or so. But I think there's a long way to go."

Calico appears to be taking the approach that worked for Barron and Levinson at Genentech, the pioneering biotechnology company that has become among the more successful drug companies in the world by making targeted medicines - largely engineered proteins - that disrupt disease pathways in diseases such as cancer. The hallmark of Genentech's approach has been to dissect the pathways involved in disease and then target them with biotechnology drugs.

Such an approach is representative of one way to cure aging: targeting the diseases that become more prevalent as people grow older. This follows the argument that treating such diseases is itself treating aging. The opposing view is to see aging as an inherently pathological program that, if switched off or reprogrammed, could be halted. But because regulators don't consider the progression of life itself a disease, the semantic debate is moot to drug companies: they can only get drugs approved by targeting diseases that become more common with age, such as cancer, diabetes and neurodegenerative disorders.

"The way Calico has said they are approaching this is the right way, which is to understand some fundamental aspects of the aging process and see how intervening in them affects that process." But so far that approach has been difficult to translate successfully into interventions that delay aging or prevent age-related disease. But the legion of companies that have failed to commercialize these discoveries is large, and some in the field now think that further progress can be made only by studying human aging.