Working on Aging in the Time of COVID-19

Vaccines are super effective because of their specificity, but this means that we need a new vaccines for each infectious agent. Theoretically, any aging drug that increases the immune health of a patient will be efficacious against new strains of infectious diseases.

The tl;dr:

  • The immune system works less well as you get older.
  • This is correlated with increased vulnerability of older individuals to infectious diseases.
  • Immune aging “immunosenescence” may be causative as to why older people get sicker from infectious diseases.
  • Aging drugs may help older people not get as sick from new infectious diseases.
  • We have shown the improvement of immune system function by treatment with some aging drugs in mice.
  • We have mixed results of this working in people.
  • Immune system function might be an interesting way to test if an aging drug works much more quickly than other healthspan or lifespan makers.

The Numbers: How the Older Fair Worse with COVID-19

As we learn more about COVID-19, we have seen the exponentially worse outcomes for the older and the ill.

The fraction of COVID-19 infected who die increases exponentially with age [1]
Of those who contract COVID-19, older individuals are more likely to become sicker. [1]

Targeting Aging to Target Infectious Disease

How do viruses get us sick and why do older individuals get so much sicker from them?

Bio Primer: how a virus makes you sick & how your immune system makes you better

COVID-19 diagram

Why aging makes you more susceptible to infectious disease

The core thesis of the aging field is that underlying healthy cellular and tissue functions break down as we age, and this degeneration is causative in the diseases we associate with aging.

Susceptibility to infectious disease as a way to test aging drugs

It is challenging to test whether a drug delays aging or increases lifespan in humans. Instead, companies developing drugs for aging must find a classical disease (“indication”) to test their drug in and hopefully show that the drug works.

  1. Immune system aging is a primary cause of why aged individuals become sicker from infections, and…
  2. The selected aging drug improves immune aging, and…
  3. The immune system improvement occurs relatively soon after dosing with the drug,
This suggests that rapamycin improved immune system response to the vaccine, protecting them agains the H1N1 challenge. Diagram explanation: Rapamycin treatment improved the protective effect of a vaccine against H1N1. Young (Y) mice without immunization (im) all succumbed within a week of H1N1 exposure. A significant portion of old (O) mice treated with vehicle (veh, control) and immunization (im) still succumbed to H1N1 infection, likely due to their immune system’s not responding adequately to the vaccine. In comparison, old mice treated with rapamycin (rapa) and then immunized against H1N1 did not succumb to the infection.
The same study also showed an increase in survival in old mice (22–24 months old) treated with rapamycin over untreated mice. Multiple groups have demonstrated the lifespan and healthspan-extending benefits of rapamycin.

Why do young people die of some infectious diseases? Be sure to note the Y-axis, which is not linear


Thanks to Ben Cmejla, Austin Diamond, Taylor Rogalski, and Armand Cognetta for helping me make this sensible.



CEO Celevity. Prev Oxford Uni + Longevity Fund. Write to learn things.

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Celine Halioua

Celine Halioua

CEO Celevity. Prev Oxford Uni + Longevity Fund. Write to learn things.