It is probably worthy of note that press articles on the treatment of aging via senolytic therapies are becoming similar in tone and content to press articles on any other active field of medical development. Take this example, publicity for Unity Biotechnology and their work on senolytic therapies to clear senescent cells from old tissues and thus remove one of the contributing causes of aging and age-related disease. It is formatted as a discussion of trials, funding, and this company or that company, this lab or that lab. It exhibits little of the breathless nonsense as to why we shouldn't address aging and its consequences, a regular feature of the past decade of coverage, and is more a matter of business as usual. Whether this heralds a sweeping change in the way in which the world views aging is anyone's guess, but the existence of major investment and sizable companies working on therapies for aging does serve to make it increasingly challenging to be a naysayer on the topic of extended healthy longevity without appearing foolish.
Osteoarthritis is the first disease Unity Biotechnology is tackling, and that one disease represents a huge opportunity: By 2026, the market for osteoarthritis drugs will be $2.6 billion in the U.S. alone. The company is currently in a phase 1, government-approved safety trial with about 40 patients in multiple sites across the U.S. The goal is to show that the drug Unity is developing - what's called a senolytic agent - can be injected into the knee and tolerated by patients in gradually higher doses. Ultimately, the thinking is that such a drug can destroy senescent cells, effectively halting or reversing osteoarthritis in the knee. In the future the same drug might be effective in treating pain elsewhere in the body.
"Osteoarthritis standard of care begins with ibuprofen, then steroids, and then most people's standard of care is just accepting it: you're old, that sucks, and you're now in pain for the rest of your life. But we think there's a better way, by looking through the lens of biological insight of why those diseases happen in the first place."
Over the last decade the titans of the tech industry have dedicated money toward cutting-edge research focused on curing disease as well as slowing, delaying and, possibly one day, reversing the conditions of old age. Perhaps the most visible example is Calico, short for the California Life Company, a spin-out from Google launched in 2013 and funded with $1.5 billion to study the causes of aging and what to do about them. "People in Silicon Valley look at problems as solvable, with enough time and enough steps. And, obviously, the size of the return is huge. If you're able to bring anything like that to the market, you have something that's universally needed. Senescent cells are really one of the first bona fide targets of aging that we've found we've been able to do something about."
Taking aim at senescent cells is a treatment paradigm being used not only by Unity Biotechnology, but also by research hospitals in the U.S. A team at the Kogod Center on Aging at the Mayo Clinic is currently testing the use of senolytic drugs in treating chronic kidney disease in humans. "The time has finally arrived that our knowledge of biology and our sophistication level is sufficient that we can attack some of these fundamental, underlying causes of aging."