As a part of efforts to push forward the treatment of aging as a medical condition, Liz Parrish underwent telomerase and follistatin gene therapies a few years ago. She formed a company, BioViva Sciences, to follow through. Self-experimentation is the most ethical of all possible ways proceed from animal studies to human studies, and is unfairly slandered in this day and age. There is a long history of notable researchers first testing their work on themselves. Self-experimentation must be followed through by success in business, fundraising, research and development, however - the areas in which all too many initiatives fail. The success rate of young companies is low in every field of endeavor.
This lengthy article tells the tale of a bold step and a follow through that faltered for all of the usual prosaic reasons. Could it all have been done better? Of course. It is easy to say that in hindsight and from the outside for any company, including the successful ones. Could BioViva have succeeded from the given starting point with difference choices and different allies along the way? Probably. Again something that can be said for near any venture. Perhaps exactly the same set of steps will be accomplished a few years from now and that effort will spark and succeed - sometimes it is just a matter of timing and what the various development and venture communities are prepared to accept. What we might choose to say on this matter, it is unequivocally the case that people are suffering and dying in vast numbers due to this medical condition called aging, and too little is being done about it. We need a thousand, ten thousand such bold steps and attempts to follow through.
The room at the clinic in Bogota was clean and spare. There was a bed and, on her right, an IV drip. Over a period that lasted well into the night, there would be more than 100 injections. The pace was agonizingly slow. "So you're saying this will still get to my organs, right?" she asked the doctor as he inserted a needle below her kneecap. It would, he assured her. It was after midnight when she got the last injection.
It was September 16, 2015, and a strange kind of medical history had been made: in an untested procedure that would have violated federal regulations in the U.S., Elizabeth Parrish, a healthy 44-year-old the founder of a small biotech startup called BioViva, had received what she believed was a more potent dose of gene therapy than any other person ever had. She did it to fight what she called the "disease" of aging. She was, in her own words, Patient Zero in the quest for radically increased longevity.
Testing BioViva's products first on herself, Parrish said, had been the only ethical choice. She hadn't turned back into a 25-year-old. Nor, on the bright side, did she appear to have cancer. Her biomarkers - triglycerides, C-reactive protein, muscle mass - were promising but ultimately inconclusive, since they were the results of just one person, and not published in a peer-reviewed study. The results of Parrish's telomere tests showed average length in white blood cells had increased by 9 percent. A press release said that this was equivalent to reversing 20 years of aging. But there was no published study to go along with it, and the news was easy to dismiss.
For two years, Parrish had been claiming that BioViva would soon open overseas clinics. Not long before RAADfest 2016, she and Bill Andrews of Sierra Sciences had made a coordinated announcement: they were partnering in a new venture called BioViva Fiji. They showed off an architectural rendering of a generically modern gene-therapy clinic. When the Fijian press caught wind of BioViva Fiji, authorities told journalists that it didn't exist, not even on paper. And at RAADfest 2017, neither Parrish nor Andrews seemed too keen to talk about it anymore.
It was the prelude to a breakup, a friendly (and perhaps temporary) parting of ways. In December 2017, a new company called Libella Gene Therapeutics announced that it had secured an exclusive license from Bill Andrews for his AAV Reverse (hTERT) transcriptase enzyme technology. Libella was now recruiting patients for a first-ever study in Cartagena, Colombia. There was no mention of BioViva, no mention of Parrish, no mention of her self-experiment.
Parrish and I met for lunch so she could tell me about BioViva's new direction. "So, BioViva is now a bioinformatics company!" she announced. It was pivoting. It wasn't trying to do clinical trials for the time being. Even offshore, away from the FDA, they cost millions of dollars, and raising that kind of money to do traditional trials would amount to the kind of slow-moving medicine she was trying to overcome. BioViva would be a data platform for other companies, collecting and analyzing the information they gathered from their trials.