The Academy for Health and Lifespan Research was recently announced, an initiative analogous to that of the long-running Longevity Dividend group, but hopefully more energetic and more focused on at least some rejuvenation biotechnologies such as senolytic therapies. The principals include many of the researchers now involved in startup biotech companies working on ways to intervene in the mechanisms of aging, and the goal is to generate greater support for development of means to slow or reverse aging and age-related disease. David Sinclair is associated with Life Biosciences and its collection of portfolio companies, and here discusses the Academy and its future role.
Tell me about the academy. Is it intended to be mainly an advocacy organization?
The academy has been formed because our field of aging and longevity research has reached a point of maturity where the leaders in the field believe that we can have - or will have - a big impact on the planet. That impact will be in medicine, in health span, and in its knock-on effect on everything from human productivity to Social Security. We wanted to come together to speak with one voice, to be able to help corporations and governments understand what things they should be thinking about now and give realistic projections of what life is going to be like 10, 20, 50 years from now. Because it's not a question of if there's going to be an impact, it's really a question of what kind of a future we want to build when this happens.
What kind of impact are we talking about? When you think about 10, 20, 50 years in the future, how do you see aging being transformed in the U.S. and around the world?
By impact, I mean that instead of tackling one disease at a time, which is the way 20th-century medicine and pharmaceutical development was practiced, we believe we can develop medicines that will treat aging at its source and thereby have a much greater impact on health and lifespan than drugs that target a single disease. Heart disease medicine may keep your heart healthy for an extra five or 10 years, but does nothing for your brain. So, we're ending up with a population of people who live longer but not better and who need a lot of help, if they're not completely in the grip of dementia. We don't think that's necessarily the only or the best approach.
Now, we have the knowledge. We're developing the technologies to not just delay these diseases of aging but actually reverse aspects of them. Imagine you have a treatment for heart disease, but as a side effect you'd also be protected against Alzheimer's, cancer, and frailty. You'd live a longer and healthier life. The reason we can extend the lifespan of animals is not because we can just make them live longer, but we keep them healthy. The animals don't get heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer's, until sometimes 20 percent later in their life. And so that's 20 percent longer youth, not just 20 percent longer life.
Are there regulatory hurdles? When we've spoken in the past, you've mentioned that the FDA considers aging a natural process and therefore won't approve drugs to treat it.
Opinions are changing rapidly about whether aging should be a condition that a doctor can prescribe a medicine for. We currently live in a world where aging is so common that it's considered by most of the world, including the medical community, as something that's natural and inevitable. And if something's considered inevitable, typically you don't focus on it in the same way as something you can treat. Cancer was a natural part of life at one time, in the same way that aging is today. A hundred years ago, doctors didn't focus on treating cancer as much as we do now, because then you couldn't do much, if anything, about it.
There are now dozens of companies working on therapies that could potentially extend overall human health and lifespan, but none of them are working specifically toward an approval for aging because the FDA wouldn't even know where to start. But that may be changing quickly. I've been part of a group that talked with the FDA, and they are willing and also quite enthusiastic about considering a change that defines aging as a disease. They would like us, first, to show that it's possible to change the rate of aging, which in my view is backward, but that's what they want. In Australia, the government is 100 percent behind this, at the FDA level and in the Ministry for Health. I'm hopeful that one country in the world - it may be Australia, it may be the U.S., it may be an Asian country - will change its definition of aging. Once one country changes its definition, then it will be a domino effect and the others will follow.