Augmenting our “healthspan”

Humans have been chasing the fountain of youth for hundreds of years. We have yet to discover the elixir to eternal youth, but medical advances have been steadily increasing life expectancy. And let’s be honest, it sucks to age — we’re talking chronic inflammations, aching joints, heart diseases, what have you. Cue Ned David, founder and CEO of Unity Biotechnology, who recently gave a talk at Hello Tomorrow Global Summit about augmented human lifespan.

Unity Biotechnology develops drugs to slow the effects of age-related diseases so that people stay healthy as they get older. The medicine helps the body shed older cells that cause inflammation and age-related diseases, such as osteoarthritis. And the startup recently raised $116 million to advance its first preclinical programs into human trials.

Ned David, CEO of Unity Biotechnology, talks about senolytic medicine at Hello Tomorrow Global Summit 2016

As we age, our bodies accumulate senescent cells, cells that have permanently stopped dividing and secrete inflammatory molecules, driving age-related afflictions according to research. Yet, the mechanism that stops these cells from constantly dividing is necessary because the contrary would mean riddling the body with tumors. What Unity focuses on is the removal of these senescent cells. In collaboration with Mayo Clinic and Buck Institute, the company has shown in animal models that by removing senescent cells, it can reverse or prevent many of the diseases that define what it means to be old — diseases such as osteoarthritis, atherosclerosis, and kidney disease.

Looking at the effects of senescent clearing in different strains of mice, Unity demonstrates the following:

The control-mouse on left is riddled with age-related diseases while the mouse on right received senescent-clearing drugs and lived 35% longer. (Photo credit: Unity Biotechnology)

These are two sibling mice — one glance and you’ve probably already guessed which mouse (the right one) had the senescent-clearing drug. The control mouse on the left is blind, osteoporotic and frail, while the mouse on the right lives 35% longer. But what’s important to note here, according to Ned, is the “profound extension of healthspan.” This is the duration of time in which this animal lives free of chronic diseases of aging.

The impact of this drug, if successfully tested on humans, could be tremendous. It could delay, if not halt, diseases in aging, thus increasing our overall health and saving the aging population from unnecessary chronic pains. But go further, and we’re talking about potentially saving billions of dollars in healthcare.

In a recent chat with WuXi AppTec, Ned took the example of healthcare spend on treating kidney disease. The United States alone spends $25 billion doing dialysis on kidney patients. With the senescent clearing drug, which has proven to cure mice of kidney disease, it could potentially wipe out a significant chunk of healthcare costs on the U.S., and thus tremendously change healthcare economics.

The company plans to start human trials in the next 18 months, beginning with eye diseases, including glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration, and osteoarthritis.

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Want to learn more about the future of healthcare? Check out our event in San Francisco on December 15 👉