FY#14 Patient Zero: A conversation with Liz Parrish about longevity science and personal immortality
Liz Parrish was arguably the first person to undergo telomerase gene therapy, in 2015, and she’s become both famous and infamous for doing so. Famous because of her courage in doing so, and for being a trailblazer for what may eventually become a serious longevity treatment. And infamous for taking this kind of risk without, in the view of some commentators, taking necessary precautions or following approved procedures. For example, her procedures took place in Colombia because they’re not allowed (yet) in the U.S.
I won’t delve here into the ethics or merits of Liz’s pioneering choices; rather, I question Liz below about the whys and hows of her treatments, and what her company, Bioviva, is now working on.
Liz started Bioviva USA Inc. in 2015 after becoming obsessed with aging science and the potential for this new research to help her son (discussed more below). Upon meeting Aubrey de Grey, one of the elder statesmen of this field, at a conference in Cambridge, England, in 2013, she saw personal and business opportunities in what could become a massive new global industry that helps literally billions of people avoid sickness and live better lives.
I met Liz at the 2018 RAADFest conference in San Diego, which I wrote about here and here. Liz was friendly and approachable despite her newfound celebrity. It so happens that I’m the same age as Liz (48) so it was interesting to talk to an age peer in this field as we did, briefly, in person and then in the email interview below in more detail. We’re all little spaceships traveling this universe, but it’s fun to have contact with similar spaceships traveling similar journeys.
If I didn’t know who she was I would have guessed that she was in her mid- to late-30s — but she’s an attractive and young-looking late-40s woman. She’s a striking tall blond and has a certain presence about her. So even though she’s now been experiencing the results of her treatments for three years I, for one, could not say that she looks younger than we may reasonably expect given the normal distribution of age appearance.
Here are her August 2018 updated results, showing three different telomere length updates, one from before treatment two after:
As she writes below, however, she’s still witnessing substantial changes to her aging profile so perhaps if I meet her again in a few years she will have “younged,” while I have aged.
With respect to your telomerase therapy treatment in 2015, beyond the quantifiable biomarkers that you’ve been tracking, what effects have you felt? Do you feel substantially younger? Do you appear younger when you look in the mirror? Or are the effects not that profound?
I have felt really good. My muscle strength has improved so that I can now lift things would not have been able to prior to my treatment. I feel energetic and people tell me I don’t look my age. One software package that analyzed my face on screen put my age at 25! However, the boost in energy may also be a placebo effect as it is very exciting to participate in new technology.
You mentioned that your telomere length is now the same as an average 30-year-old. Do you plan to do the same telomere therapy every few years? And if so, do you expect that you’ll actually see measurable signs of age reversal before long?
Yes, and yes. It is in the interest of research and medical progress that the length of my telomeres be measured every few years as a follow up. The therapy I did in Colombia would have been pretty pointless as a one off. I hope that the gene therapies that I have already taken and those that I intend to take in the future will lower my biological age and attenuate visible signs of aging.
Can you at this point describe the specific procedures and doses you experienced in terms of the telomerase therapy you received?
Unfortunately, no. The dosage of the telomerase gene therapy is proprietary information. The pharmacokinetics for gene therapy is still nascent. We are currently developing unique telomerase and myostatin inhibitor gene therapies that will be biologically and chronologically personalized to suit each patient.
What specific biomarkers are you monitoring after your treatments? What gave you the confidence to take telomerase therapy given the widespread concerns about such treatments promoting cancer?
We are measuring over 6,000 metabolic, physiological, anatomical, molecular and imaging markers. These markers are known collectively as aging biomarkers, and form the package that BioViva has put together.
Our scientific and technological Development Team has extensively reviewed the literature and found no evidence that telomerase causes cancer. Telomerase production is a feature of cancer once cancer has taken hold in the body but it is not the primary cause of cancer. This is a very important difference. In fact, earlier this year the research of Professor Maria Blasco, Director of Spain’s National Cancer Research Centre, showed that inserting the gene for telomerase in mice, even in those that already have cancer, does not accelerate their cancer. In fact, for some mice the hTERT gene therapy slows down the progression of their cancer.
Based on your own experience and the various research and clinical trials coming up for telomerase therapy, what’s your best estimate for when telomerase therapy treatments will become commercially available?
Our partner company, Integrated Health Systems (IHS), started clinical studies in 2018, with many new studies coming up in 2019. They address a range of disorders such as sarcopenia, chronic kidney failure and Alzheimer’s/ dementia. In addition, to answer your question, IHS currently provides telomerase treatments to patients in need.
You shared a significant personal detail at this year’s RAADFest conference — that it was your son’s ailments that first led you into longevity research and to the radical step of becoming “patient zero” for non-FDA-approved treatments. What led you to share these details now when you preferred to keep your personal life private previously?
I have shared that story for a about a year now, as my videos and blogs can attest. The journey was a very personal story to me and my family. Initially, I didn’t want to draw attention to my family and it worked out for the best that I kept the reasoning for my urgency private. Millions of people suffer with chronic disease every day, yet daily most people act like disease is someone else’s problem. We need to own up to these problems and work together to solve them. One day it will be you and your family who suffers. So it’s best to spend our energy trying to create a better world while we have the energy and time. Everyday, I watch my son struggle to stay healthy, it is a good reminder to work harder toward this goal of better therapies and patient access.
You also shared some exciting details about new offerings from BioViva, including personal longevity counseling, and bigger, faster and better viral delivery vectors for various medications and treatments. When are these new products going to be available?
The diagnostic, and genetic counselling products are available now and described here. Regarding bigger, better, and less expensive viral vectors, we are currently funding research and development at Rutgers University, as described in this press release.
You mentioned klotho gene therapy at RAADFest as a very promising treatment being developed currently. Is BioViva involved directly in this work? What do you expect in terms of results from effective klotho treatments? Have you examined the merits of the Immortalis klotho treatment yet, one of the vendors at last year’s RAADFest?
Yes, klotho gene therapy does indeed look very promising. We think that Klotho can help in many ways, including improving brain function, suppressing uncontrolled growth pathways, clearing damage caused by oxidative stress, and providing protection against kidney and cardiovascular disease. No, we haven’t reviewed the klotho treatment provided by Immortalis.
When asked at RAADFest what you would suggest is the most important message when discussing longevity science you said it was very important to keep compassion in mind. People are often bewildered by discussions of new therapies and new science and to many people the idea of radical life extension is still hard to get their head around. Some even find such ideas morally or spiritually objectionable. Have you seen much of a change in general public opinion in the years that you’ve been active in this field in terms of acceptance of the possibility and/or desirability of radical life extension?
I have seen people become more engaged in questions about life extension in the last couple of years. As they become aware that radical life extension is possible, and not just in a remote future, but in the next decades, they want to know more, and invest more in things they now know will keep them healthy, and make them healthier.
Do you personally want to live forever? Or just live longer and healthier?
No one can live forever. It’s a meaningless statement. I can’t ever say, for example, “now I have lived forever.” But what I do want is to be healthy for as long as I am alive. Sickness is what robs life of its meaning. A meaningful life is healthy. And this means healthy both physically and mentally, having full use of all my faculties, and the energy to do a lot of things.