Longevity

Longevity research used to be a fringe topic, avoided by scientists and investors alike. However, an increasingly aging population has brought the topic to the forefront, and major pharmaceutical companies are beginning to take notice.

Longevity research used to be a fringe topic, avoided by scientists and investors alike. However, an increasingly aging population has brought the topic to the forefront, and major pharmaceutical companies are beginning to take notice.

According to BloombergBusiness, “for the most part, Big Pharma has shied away from aging, which conventional wisdom has deemed to be a quackery-ridden money pit.” However, in 2008, GlaxoSmithKline (LSE:GSK,NYSE:GSK) spent $720 million to buy biotech startup Sirtris Pharmaceuticals, which was developing resveratrol, a drug purported to have anti-aging qualities.

While resveratrol eventually flopped, more recently $260-billion Swiss giant Novartis (VTX:NOVN,NYSE:NVS) began investing in research and development on biological agent rapamycin.

All in all, longevity investing seems to be on the rise, and already 2015 has brought renewed scientific and economic investment to the field. Here’s a look at two of the top trends in longevity investing so far this year.

Anti-aging through therapies

A group of longevity researchers believes it may be on the brink of discovering if not immortality, then a way to indefinitely postpone the effects of aging. Aubrey de Grey, a Cambridge gerontologist and co-founder of the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescense Research Foundation, claims that he has discovered a way to continually preserve a body’s current age. De Grey is developing a therapy to kill cells that can no longer divide, thereby enabling healthy cells to replenish tissue by multiplying freely.

He explained earlier this year, “these therapies are going to be good enough to take middle age people, say people aged 60, and rejuvenate them thoroughly enough so they won’t be biologically 60 again until they are chronologically 90.” If that is true, then his work will undoubtedly have significant implications for the future of aging.

Rapamycin: the key to anti-aging?

The greatest breakthrough in the field of longevity research is currently Novartis’ drug rapamycin, which has been proven to delay the effects of aging in clinical trials. BloombergBusiness wrote a profile on the drug this past February, chronicling its modest beginnings as a Streptomyces hygroscopicus sample from Easter Island stored in the family freezer of Suren Sehgal — an early believer in the bacterium’s potential.

The US Food and Drug Administration approved rapamycin for use in 1999 as a drug for transplant patients as it suppresses the body’s natural immune system. Since then, derivatives of rapamycin have been used for diverse applications, including coating cardiac stents for use against breast cancers.

However, rapamycin is making news today because of Novartis’ new commitment to exploring its anti-aging possibilities. Matt Kaeberlein, a scientist at the University of Washington and an expert in the biology of aging, has explained that the drug seems to postpone “age-related decline in multiple different organ systems, which is something which we could expect if we were fundamentally slowing the ageing process.”

Essentially, rapamycin will treat aging as a contributing factor to chronic diseases that kill people later in life. Kaeberlein thus views the drug “as the ultimate preventative medicine.”

All that said, it’s important to note that because of rapamycin’s suppressive effect on the immune system, there is some doubt that its benefits will outweigh the risks in healthy individuals. Nonetheless, it remains one of the most important and promising breakthroughs in the field of longevity research to date.

 

Securities Disclosure: I, Morag McGreevey, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.

Related reading: 

What is Longevity Investing?

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