I think it is entirely appropriate to greet the advent of senolytics with enthusiasm. These treatments are the first legitimate rejuvenation therapies to successfully target one of the root causes of aging, the accumulation of lingering senescent cells in old tissues. The first human trial data is approaching publication, but even before it arrives, the evidence to date strongly suggests that meaningful levels of rejuvenation can be achieved in old people at a very low cost. The first senolytic drugs (such as dasatinib and navitoclax) and plant extracts (such as fisetin and piperlongumine) cost very little, and remove only some senescent cells, no more than half in some tissues, and far fewer than that in others. Nonetheless, in mouse studies they reliably reduce chronic inflammation, reverse the progression of numerous conditions ranging from arthritis to Alzheimer's disease, and extend healthy life span even when applied a limited number of times in very late life.
As we get older, more and more of our the cells in our bodies become dysfunctional and enter into a state known as senescence. These senescent cells no longer divide or support the tissues and organs of which they are part; instead, they secrete a range of harmful inflammatory chemical signals, which are known as the senescence-associated secretory phenotype (SASP). Dr. Judith Campisi from the Buck Institute for Research on Aging, along with her research team, identified that senescent cells secreted the various harmful chemicals that characterize the SASP in 2008, which was when interest in senescent cells really began.
The SASP is a real problem: it increases inflammation, harms tissue repair and function, causes the immune system to malfunction, and raises the risk of developing age-related diseases such as cancer. Even worse, the SASP also encourages nearby healthy cells to become senescent, so even a very small number of senescent cells can cause big problems. Normally, senescent cells destroy themselves by a self-destruct process known as apoptosis or are cleared away by the immune system. Unfortunately, as we age, the immune system becomes weaker, and the senescent cells start to build up in the body. The accumulation of senescent cells is considered to be one of the reasons why we age and develop age-related diseases.
With these experiments, the biotechnology industry had initial proof that targeting one of the aging processes directly could improve health by delaying aging in mice; this began the search to develop therapies that target and destroy these harmful cells. This was the birth of a new class of drugs and therapies that would become known as senolytics. So far, there have been a number of drugs and naturally occurring compounds with senolytic potential and multiple mouse experiments demonstrating that the clearance of these cells can delay the onset of diseases such as cancer, heart disease, osteoporosis, arthritis, and Alzheimer's.
Interest in senolytics has seen a meteoric rise in the last couple of years, with investment money pouring in as confidence in the approach has reached new heights. There are also a number of companies developing therapies to destroy senescent cells, and it is likely that more will join them in the coming years. Leading the charge is Unity Biotechnology, which was founded in 2011 and has raised over $385 million in funding since then. Other companies are hot on its heels developing ways to seek and destroy these harmful cells. Oisin Biotechnologies, based in Seattle, is one such company. Founded in 2016, it has raised around $4 million to date and is developing a unique lipid nanoparticle-based system to deliver senolytic and cancer therapies. Cleara Biotech, based in the Netherlands, and Spain-based Senolytic Therapeutics are also busy developing senolytic therapies.