One of the many possible paths towards developing a new medical technology is to first focus on veterinary use. It is considerably less costly in time and resources to develop a therapy for dogs, say, than it is to develop a therapy for humans. Later, given robust success in veterinary medicine, the therapy can be brought into the sphere of human medicine. This is the approach taken by Rejuvenate Bio for their class of regenerative gene therapies. As noted here, the company is moving forward to trials in companion animals, starting later this year.
Back in 2015, the Church lab at Harvard began testing a variety of therapies focused on age reversal using CRISPR, a gene editing system that was much easier and faster to use than older techniques. Since then, Professor Church and his lab have conducted a myriad of experiments and gathered lots of data with which to plan future strategies for tackling aging. Last year, we learned that Rejuvenate Bio had already conducted some initial studies with beagles and were planning to reverse aging using CRISPR gene therapy. The goal was to move these studies forward to a larger scale as a step towards bringing similar therapies to humans to prevent age-related diseases.
Choosing to develop therapies for dogs helps pave the way for therapies that address the aging processes in humans and could support their approval, which would otherwise be much more challenging. If Rejuvenate Bio can produce robust data in dogs showing that some processes of aging have been reversed, it lends considerable justification for human trials. The company is also taking a different tack; instead of focusing on increasing lifespan, it is instead targeting an age-related disease. Rejuvenate Bio will be launching a gene therapy trial in dogs during the fall this year to combat mitral valve disease (MVD), a condition commonly encountered in the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel breed and directly caused by the aging processes. The study will initially focus on this particular breed and expand to include other dogs with MVD as time passes.
This gene therapy is focused on adding a new piece of DNA into the cells of the dogs in order to halt the buildup of fibrotic scar tissue in the heart, which is linked to the progression of MVD and other forms of heart failure. Fibrotic tissue is the result of imperfect repair, which occurs when a more complete repair is not possible due to a lack of replacement cells or high levels of inflammation. The therapy may also be useful for other heart conditions, such as dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). If the initial results are successful, we could see more dog breeds included as well as other conditions, including DCM, added to the program.