The Rejuvenation Biotechnology 2015 conference started yesterday, hosted by the SENS Research Foundation in San Francisco. This is the second in a conference series intended to help build the bridges between scientists and developers, the lab and the industry. We are nearing the point at which some first generation rejuvenation therapies based on the SENS vision of damage repair become ready for practical clinical development. Senescent cell clearance has been demonstrated to some degree via drugs in mice, and at least one startup company has been seed funded to create a first pass at a viable therapy for humans. Similarly allotopic expression to eliminate the consequences of mitochondrial DNA damage is under commercial development already for inherited mitochondrial diseases, and once robustly deployed that technology will need comparatively little adaptation to be used as a therapy for aging.
A smooth hand-off from laboratory to developer doesn't just magically happen, however, no matter how compelling the potential therapy. It requires network, connections, and a two-way flow of education and awareness. Even the obvious steps in creating technological progress must be organized well in advance. Given all of this, the focus of the Rejuvenation Biotechnology conference series is as much on business and economics as it is on the science of rejuvenation and the programs taking place in the laboratory. The message is being delivered to a broad audience of movers and shakers in the business community: opportunity is knocking, the potential to treat aging as a medical condition is near. Be ready, and better yet, invest in speeding development, because your competitors are going to wake up one day soon and do exactly that. Those who get there first are going to make a lot of money selling treatments that are applicable to everyone, and which greatly improve health for everyone.
It is usually the case that good coverage of SENS conferences only emerges after the fact, alongside video of the presentations, but this year there is a little liveblogging taking place:
Fantastic keynote talk by Chas Bountra, Structural Genomics Consortium Oxford Chief Scientist. We must transform the way we discover medicines. The biggest challenge is identifying proteins we need to modulate. Too much secrecy and competition are slowing down drug discovery. As an example, take cancer in the UK: in the next 12 months, 315,000 people will be diagnosed. That is one person every 19 seconds. Half of us in the room will get diagnosed with cancer in our lifetime. The way we discover drugs is too costly, too risky, and too slow: available for solid tumors produced an increase in overall survival by only 2.1 months, and only 30 out of 71 drugs for solid tumors produced clinically meaningful improvements. Average cost per drug launched: $12Bn. In 2003 there were 529 molecules in development for cancer (phase 1-3 clinical trials). In 2013 they looked at what happened to them: 45 made it to market, 95 were still in development, 389 have been terminated (took to the clinic and terminated). It's also very slow. It took 6-30 years to take an idea into patients.
Too much secrecy, competition, duplication and wastage. We bring together multiple clinicians, academic groups, pharma companies, patient groups and CROs. We're funded by government, private, philantropic and charity funds. We're working to come up with new targets so the industry can take the molecules to the markeplace. We're trying to create a new ecosystem, which will generate more novel, more effective medicine, more quickly, and more affordably. Let's remember that, regrettably, all of us will be patients one day.
We develop novel methods for tissue regeneration by considering the biology at the implant site in addition to the influence it will have on a biomaterial. Cell response is important, but many overlook the fact that cell response is guided through the extracellular matrix, and matrix assembly is often ignored. Material/tissue interactions have not been fully exploited in regenerative medicine, and critically the translation of "simple materials" to the clinic has a lower cost in effort and money than the translation of cell therapies - meaning a larger short-term economic payback.
Frances Colón is the Acting Science and Technology Adviser to the Secretary of State, United States Department of State. In an animated talk spanning science, technology, diplomacy and policy, Frances provided an inside look at the intersection between science and politics.
Colón was asked about how the State plans to deal with issues that are perceived as 'non-crisis' issues, such as aging. She stated that 90% of the issues they deal with are crises like infectious outbreaks and simply do not have the bandwidth to tackle these other issues, despite the fact that the older population is growing rapidly across the globe. Her advice was to speak loudly, clearly and frequently (from diverse communities) to US Congressmen and organizations like the NSF. Speaking as a scientist in the aging field, I concur with my collegues here and hope that age-related diseases make it on the to-do list of public policy makers.
An attendee noted that getting a policy initiated with the current Obama administration may be our best best since he has actively gone after a 'non-crisis' issue like climate change. Finally, Colón encourages scientists to be vocal about their work and passions - so that our collective voice grows louder and can lead to real policy change.