Longevity and aging medications: Treatments may take years. Investors are pumping billions into them.

Longevity and aging medications: Treatments may take years.  Investors are pumping billions into them.

The investment world is pondering whether the longevity business has legs.

Advances in genetics and cell biology have given scientists a more detailed picture of… Why and how we get older. Now biotech startups are trying to use this knowledge to keep people healthy as they age, with the goal of ultimately extending human lifespan.

There are dozens of products and treatments in the pipeline, including drugs designed to speed up metabolism or halt muscle loss in older people; Treatments that rejuvenate aging cells. And new treatments for cancer, one of many diseases that become more common as we age.

Few of these treatments have been approved by regulators, and they are unlikely to be approved for another five or ten years as new drugs undergo trials. “The most important thing is to survive another 10 years because by then we will definitely have an impact,” says Jim Mellon, founder of JuvenSense, which is developing its own life-extension treatments and investing in other life-extending biotechnologies. Aging.

Among other things, Juvenescent is developing ketone-based therapies for the treatment of heart diseases. Ketones are an energy source that the body uses as fuel during long periods of exercise or fasting.

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Longevity investments have risen from $525 million in 2013 to $9.26 billion in 2021, according to Longevity.Technology, a website that publishes news and statistics about the industry. The peak came in January 2022 with the launch of $3 billion Altos Labs, which has the lofty goal of “transforming medicine through programming cell regeneration.” Altos is researching the use of stem cells for cell regeneration. Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos is among the company’s backers, according to multiple reports, though Altos has not confirmed this.

Investments in the longevity industry, along with financing for biotechnology in all its fields, have declined amid rising interest rates and economic concerns. Last year saw $3.01 billion in investments, according to Longevity.Technology. Editor-in-Chief Phil Newman says this year and next could be “very tough,” but he sees investments ramping up as longevity drugs get closer to approval.

“They will change the world because people will stay healthier longer and stay productive longer,” Newman says. “Who wouldn’t want a life-extending drug?”

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One of the biggest challenges facing long-lived biotech is monetization. Even if biotechnology comes up with a treatment that makes people live longer, it’s not clear how it will be reimbursed by Medicare or private insurance companies because aging is not a disease.

Instead, as with traditional pharmaceutical companies, biotechnology companies seek to treat diseases of aging, including heart disease, cancer, and metabolic and neurological disorders. There is already a large market for drugs and treatments for these diseases.

“My enthusiastic hat says: ‘Let’s solve the problem of aging,’” says Sergei Jakimov, co-founder of venture capital firm LongeVC. “My investing hat says we may start to solve some of the age-related diseases, which would have a very significant longevity benefit for the entire population.”

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Turn.bio, a LongeVC investment, is developing drugs using mRNA — the same technology used in leading Covid vaccines — that direct the body’s cells to fight disease or repair damaged tissue. Another investment is in a Swiss company called PreComb, which takes biopsies of cancerous tumor samples, grows them in a laboratory, and rapidly tests different treatments and chemotherapy combinations to find the most effective. “They get back to the patient within 10 days with a personalized treatment choice,” Jakimov says.

Alex Colville, co-founder of age1, another long-standing venture capital firm, says his company invests in four main areas: delaying disease; Replacement of senescent cells. Aging cell regeneration. And slowing down metabolism to achieve some of the same health benefits that animals get when they hibernate.

One of age1’s investments is Arda Therapeutics, which is developing technology to identify and remove diseased cells while leaving healthy cells in place.

A group of venture capital funds are investing in the biotech space called BioAge Labs, which has raised $127 million to date. BioAge will be in Phase 2 trials for a drug that mimics the effects of a protein called apelin that is released during exercise and helps people retain physical function as they age. It is being tested in conjunction with Eli Lilly

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Weight loss drug Zepbound hopes that people who take these drugs will lose more weight and be healthier, including a better balance of muscle and fat.

Christine Fortney, CEO of BioAge, says her company identified apelin by studying blood samples and health records from thousands of people. The company’s research determines that apelin levels decrease with age. “If you have a higher level of apelin in your blood, that predicts an increased life expectancy in the future,” she says.

AI’s vast ability to sift through data will play a role in many other longevity treatments. Venture capitalist Amol Sarva of Life Extension Ventures says advances in longevity will not necessarily come from new drugs or treatments, but from using artificial intelligence to analyze the best use of existing treatments.

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Life Extension Ventures is investing in Onc.ai and Curve Biosciences, two companies working to identify diseases early and target appropriate treatments. Another investment is the startup Cure51, which is compiling a database of “super-survivor data” from people who have battled cancer, Sarva says.

“We’re focused on software,” says Sarva, who says many of the approaches working in Silicon Valley could be effective against aging.

Over time, more research could be directed toward slowing the aging process itself. “Our medical system is overreacting to a whole gamut of diseases that are mostly caused by aging,” says Dr. Eric Verdin, CEO of the Buck Institute for Research on Aging, a nonprofit. “Why don’t we address the root cause of these diseases and prevent them from occurring in the first place?”

Such success may come from existing drugs. Verdin points to rapamycin, an immunosuppressant given to people undergoing kidney transplants to prevent organ rejection. There is a growing body of research that suggests the drug has anti-aging properties, but it can also have unwanted side effects. So biotechnology companies are trying to develop new drugs that have the benefits of rapamycin without its side effects.

Overeating is often the cause of diseases that are major killers in modern society. Research has found health benefits from intermittent fasting, or eating for a limited period. Rapamycin appears to have the same effect, Verdin says. “It tricks the body into thinking you’re fasting almost continuously,” Verdin says.

Big breakthroughs in life-extension drugs and treatments can come from traditional pharmaceutical companies. Since most diseases are age-related, many of the drugs currently marketed by pharmaceutical companies are drugs that effectively extend life.

Statins, which are used by millions of people around the world to prevent atherosclerosis or heart disease, can be viewed as an anti-aging drug. The same is true for new weight-loss drugs, which appear to provide a range of health benefits beyond weight loss, including reduced heart and metabolic disease, and perhaps even reduced dementia.

Indeed, the most likely exit strategy for long-lived biotechs is either to be acquired by big pharma or to sell their treatments to them. longevity. Pharmaceutical companies are closely monitoring long-life biotechnology and will step up their investments in this area as the drugs move closer to approval, says the technology company’s Newman.

“They are waiting for things to get better,” he says.

Write to Neil Templen at neal.templen@barrons.com

(tags for translation) Pharmaceuticals

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