The Longevity.technology team has been publishing notes on the recent Aging Research and Drug Discovery (ARDD) conference, one of the few events at the end of this year to be held in person again after the long pandemic hiatus. It was a challenge for conference organizers to look into the crystal ball six to twelve months in advance and commit to a late 2021 event, but some did. The 2022 conference season will no doubt be interesting, as restrictions relax sufficiently for reliable travel and advance scheduling, and a few years of the suppressed urge to network is finally unleashed. The ARDD conferences are more focused on academic science and the established pharmaceutical industry than on investment and entrepreneurship, at least in comparison to say, the Undoing Aging conference series, but it can nonetheless be an interesting event for both investors and entrepreneurs.
For my part, I feel that there is too much of a focus on incremental, unambitious programs and interventions, such as metformin and other calorie restriction mimetics. These unambitious programs may turn out to provide sufficient proof of principle, in animal studies and preclinical drug discovery, for those leaders in the pharmaceutical industry who still find the idea of treating aging a novelty. The outcomes in the clinic will be modest to the point of pointlessness, however. No-one should be spending billions on the development of drugs that cannot in principle do any more for health than exercise and or a reduction in calorie intake. The opportunity cost here is vast, a loss of attention and effort that should have gone towards the development of true rejuvenation therapies with potentially sizable effects on health and life span. This is a complaint that can be directed at the field as a whole, and ARDD only happens to be a representative sampling of that field.
With the goal of building better connections between pharma companies and the longevity field, ARDD's organisers are conscious of the importance of showcasing the most credible research and development in aging. "People want to believe in longevity, but it's important to maintain a stringent a scientific focus as possible. We haven't shown a single molecule working in humans and, while we've been able to slow aging down in mammals, we have never been able to stop it. But I'm very enthusiastic and positive about some of these challenges that we're facing. Years ago, the aging field was many disconnected fields. But the industry and the science has started taking shape, and the conference has evolved through the integration of multiple fields with key hallmarks of aging."
The theme of education continues throughout this year's conference, which has its roots in bridging the gap between the longevity field and major pharmaceutical companies. "From the very beginning, we have tried to make this conference very friendly towards the pharmaceutical industry, which needs to buy into this field. There has been a lot of activity in early stage drug discovery in the pharmaceutical industry, specifically on aging and age-associated biology that can be purposed towards multiple diseases."
Anne-Ulrike Trendelenburg from the Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research gave a brilliant presentation on pathways that should be targeted to treat age-related diseases, and how her research is shifting away from aging and towards defining and targeting frailty. Novartis' research has highlighted five recommendations to guide the future of age-related disease targeting. Firstly, focusing on healthspan as opposed to lifespan, which will have the biggest impact on patient lives, adding quality of life to years, over adding years to life. Trendelenburg also highlighted targeting multimorbidity, rather than continuing to focus on treating each individual disease, which is said to be ineffective and expensive. The team from Novartis want to develop better multimorbidity models in order to progress another of their recommendations, which is to target frailty over age through clinical trials.
The day showcased a variety of longevity research, we heard more about the importance of focussing on mitochondrial targets in relation to finding age-related therapies. Karl Lenhard Rudolph from the Leibniz Institute on Aging spoke on mitochondrial enhancement and its relationship with late life dietary restriction, enabling improvements in stem cells and lifespan. While recognising the positive effects seen with dietary restriction across organisms, Rudolph addressed the worrying data that saw this method losing efficacy when restriction is started late in life. When looking at reduction of mortality rates lifelong dietary restriction shows a reduction in mortality rate, however late life dietary restriction has very little effect.