The Fountain of Youth is a legendary spring providing water that restores the youthful appearance of an individual who drinks or bathes in its magical liquid. The fountain has been featured prominently in various fiction stories, and now the pharmaceutical industry is pursuing a type of treatment that may offer these restorative properties.

Dr. Peter Fedichev, the chief scientific officer and co-founder of drug discovery company Gero, recently moderated a panel discussing the anti-aging and longevity drug market at this year’s annual BIO International Convention in San Francisco.

Dr. Peter Fedichev
Chief Scientific Officer, Gero

He answered a few questions for Drug Discovery & Development via email, which are presented below.

Please describe the panel’s focus.

Age is the single most important risk factor for major diseases, normally associated with aging. There’s been a tremendous progress in understanding molecular biology of characterization and even controlling aging in the labs. Lifespans of model animals were increased up to an order of magnitude in some species and some of the research is being translated into future therapies. Last year Novartis conducted clinical trials of rapalogs, their proprietary analogs of probably one of the best known life-extending compounds, rapamycin, in elderly cohorts, and showed a reverse in age-related decline of immune function. In another major development, the FDA approved a clinical protocol for TAME (Targeting Aging with Metformin) study, the first-ever study design aimed to test a therapy against aging endpoints.

This year at BIO International Convention Gero team organized a panel of distinguished experts, including a VC (venture capitalist), a biotech, a pharma, and public health representatives. We discussed the business opportunities created by the aging research, and the financial, regulatory and larger policy and public perception issues around the subject.

What are the challenges researchers face when developing these anti-aging drugs?

I believe that the most important challenges are still of a technological nature. We need to understand the biology of aging better first. To do that, we at Gero developed a theoretical model, linking gene expression networks stability and aging. That model allows us to identify novel biomarkers, patterns of aging process, as well as targets for therapeutic interventions.

Some areas of the research have already produced translatable products. As the nature of the research in the field changes towards practical applications, so do the funding and development requirements. That’s why we discussed possible business models, the solutions of the fund-raising and regulatory problems.

Interestingly, there are only a few companies and thinkers are trying to address aging as the core problem. Most are concerned with understanding and treatments of specific diseases. It is hence possible, that the emergent longevity companies will have to tackle the diseases of age, one by one, following existing regulatory paths. Another possibility would be to classify aging as a disease itself and introduce robust and cost-effective clinical trials design to accelerate and focus the development.

Should the technological and regulatory issues be resolved, the panel experts agree, the funding would go (and is already going at increasing pace!) right into the sector growth fuel.

Can you elaborate on the specific business opportunities that will arise for biotech/pharma companies who may craft these new therapies?

The business opportunities for a successful product against aging are very clear. The population of the developed world grows, and the burden of the diseases of age puts increasing pressure on public health system. There is, undoubtedly, enormous money to be saved for the both customers and the society, and, hence, to be earned by the longevity solutions providers.

How will these anti-aging drugs be priced? What are the growth projections for this particular market? (i.e. which countries will be the most lucrative)

Solving the problem of aging has a very clear humanitarian appeal. In a way, nobody is unaffected and therefore, since the market is huge, we feel like there is a possibility for a mass product at very affordable prices. Also, since the aging delay would keep highly experienced and productive people at work for longer, novel insurance schemes should evolve to fund the deployment of the novel therapies and preventive medicines approaches.