Pills that can help a person reverse the effects of aging could be on the market in the next five years, according to an expert.
Sam Altman, 37, was revealed to have funded biotech startup Retro BioScience to the tune of $180million last month. He is the latest in a long line of Silicon Valley billionaires to throw their considerable wealth behind the science of aging.
Amazon’s Jeff Bezos is reported to have invested $3billion in life-extension startup Altos Labs. PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel invested in the Methuselah Foundation, which has the goal of making ’90 the new 50′.
With all these resources being thrown at curing aging, Andrew Steele, the author of the 2020 book ‘Ageless: The new science of getting older without getting old’, believes pills to prevent aging may be on pharmacy shelves within five years.
He points to existing medications — such as the diabetes tablet metformin – that could be retooled as anti-aging treatments in the ‘very, very near term’.
Sam Altman (left), founder of ChatGPT creator OpenAI, has invested in a life-extension biotech. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos (right) funded Atlos Labs and its research into life extension for $3billion
Tech billionaire Peter Thiel invested in the Methuselah Foundation, hoping to great exceed the average person’s lifespan
Steele said: ‘With these billionaires, I’m sure some of them are doing it purely for personal gain — they’ve got all this money and they can’t possibly spend it in a single human lifetime.
‘But… if you’re a savvy investor, you can see that anti-aging medication is a huge business opportunity because the potential market is every living human.
‘I think it’s going to be the biggest revolution in medicine since the discovery of antibiotics — and as a savvy business person, you want to be on the leading edge of that revolution.’
While aging does not directly kill people, older people are at risk of many deadly diseases such as Alzheimer’s, heart disease and cancer.
Around 100,000 people die from age-related diseases every day, according to the World Health Organization.
Mr Steele says: ‘Aging is the greatest humanitarian challenge of all time.
There are ’20 to 30′ companies developing new drugs known as ‘senolytics’ which kill aging cells in the body, he explained.
In mice, these drugs cause elderly animals to become lively and healthy suddenly.
‘Many of these drugs are drugs that we already understand and use for different purposes, so we don’t have to develop new medications,’ Mr Steele said.
An example of a senolytic treatment is the combination of datasinib, used for chemotherapy, and quercetin, a molecule found in fruits and vegetables.
Used together, they remove aged ‘senescent’ cells responsible for many of the problems associated with aging.
Another potential general anti-aging drug is metformin. First approved in 1994 for type 2 diabetes, the drug has shown promise extending lifespans by improving blood vessel health.
‘Some of those companies are trying to develop new and more effective drugs that could do the same thing better,’ the author said.
‘That’s the sort of thing that’s very, very close to clinical realization. And I’d be shocked if in five years we don’t have some senolytics in the clinic.
‘It probably won’t be for aging at first. It’ll be for a specific disease – and maybe in 10 years, we’ll use it for aging.
‘These things are very, very near term.’
Jeff Bezos’s investment in Altos Labs — the biggest biotechnology company launch of all time — is a longer shot, Steele believes.
Dr Andrew Steele is the author of Ageless, a new book on life extension (Tran Nguyen)
The firm specializes finding and developing cell therapies that can halt and eventually reverse the process of aging.
Mr Steele says: ‘This relies on a process called cellular reprogramming. It’s been shown to work on cells in a dish, and there’s some evidence it works in mice – but it’s an incredibly complicated piece of science.
‘It’s like science that seems to have fallen through a wormhole from the future – and even if it does work, do we have the biological applied understanding in the 2020s to turn that into a workable treatment?’
When Altos Labs was announced, Elon Musk quipped on Twitter about the Amazon mogul: ‘If it doesn’t work, he’s gonna sue death!’
With labs launching in America and Cambridge, the company is reputed to pay scientists poached from the world’s top universities salaries of up to a million dollars a year.
Steele says that, realistically, treatments we are likely to see in the near term will extend ‘healthspan’ by dealing with age-related diseases — delaying the onset of problems such as dementia.
Dr Cathy Slack, a biologist from the University of Aston, in the UK, agrees, telling DailyMail.com: ‘The goal is to increase the number of years of healthy lifespan rather than extending the late-life period of poor health.’
She said there are now ‘many’ published studies that show that genetic or environmental changes can extend a healthy lifespan.
She says: ‘Many of the biological systems that have been shown to play a role in healthy aging in these animal models are also present in humans and perform similar functions – so there is every reason to believe that these same processes are impacting on human aging.
‘The ultimate goal is really to try and manipulate these systems during human aging to maintain health and quality of life.’
Dr Slack believes that successful treatments are likely to be a combination of drugs and lifestyle changes – and look holistically at all the diseases that afflict people in later life.
She says: ‘Historically, we have viewed the various diseases associated with older age as distinct entities – so research tends to focus on each one rather than looking at them more holistically together as a direct consequence of biological aging.
‘We already know that there are lifestyle changes that will help to maintain multiple aspects of heath during aging.
‘Exercise, for example. But supplementation with drugs that target multiple physiological parameters of aging could have a huge impact on quality of life for older adults.’