It took more than eight decades since the landmark experiments on calorie restrictions in 1930th to get to a point when the first wave of new anti-aging drugs have begun human testing. This first generation of longevity therapeutics, including senolytics, rapamycin, mitochondrial gene therapy, and WNT pathway regulators among others, are not directly targeting ageing (yet), rather they aim to treat specific ailments by slowing or reversing a fundamental process of aging. However, the rate of progress in this area allows for some constructive optimism towards being able to actually expand the healthy lifespan in the foreseeable future.
Over the last decade, and especially after the 2013 landmark paper “The Hallmarks of Aging”, published in Cell, the area of anti-ageing research has been booming in many directions -- from senolytics discovery, to drug repurposing, stem cells, genomics, discovery of biomarkers of aging (“aging clocks’) and more. At the beginning of 2020, MIT Technology Review selected anti-aging drugs for their list of 10 Breakthrough Technologies 2020.
The anti-aging drug discovery startup ecosystem is in its early days now, with only a little above one hundred emerging companies -- largely at the preclinical stage of development. At the moment, there is no one FDA-approved treatment to specifically slow or revert aging, but a few candidates have made it to phase 3 clinical trials. Venture capital investments into longevity-focused companies have been growing over the last few years and will probably keep that trend up -- until the inflection point when the first anti-aging drug is approved for the market. At that moment of going “from zero to one” the longevity industry will explode with investments and acquisition deals. Already today some longevity-focused companies achieved striking funding levels and multi-billion dollar valuations (e.g. Samumed).
The below chart summarizes some notable companies across the so-called “hallmarks of aging” classification framework -- specific mechanisms believed to be the key drivers of body deterioration over years. Those include the four primary hallmarks, precursors of damage: genomic instability, telomere attrition, epigenetic alterations, and loss of proteostasis. They catalyze a series of responses to damage -- antagonistic hallmarks: deregulated nutrient sensing, mitochondrial dysfunction, and cellular senescence. Finally, the integrative hallmarks appear to be the culprits of the phenotype: stem cell exhaustion, and altered intercellular communication.
Stem cells and aging research
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