This was the first year for the Longevity Therapeutics Summit in San Francisco, California. Ably organized by Hanson Wade, with John Lewis, CEO of Oisín Biotechnologies, as program chair, the conference focused on senolytics for senescent cell clearance, big data and AI in finding new drugs (“in silico” testing), delivery systems for therapeutics like senolytics, TORC1 drugs, and biomarkers of aging, and the challenges of clinical trial development and FDA approval.
The conference featured a smorgasbord of cutting-edge longevity research, and, as the name implies, the general focus was on therapeutics that target aging, rather than basic research or theory.
Ned David, CEO of Unity Biotechnology, kicked off the conference with a talk about the company’s latest research on senolytics, which clear away senescent (“zombie”) cells, which secrete harmful chemicals that can cause neighboring cells to also become senescent. Unity has made the news recently with an extension request for its clinical trial of its first-in-class senolytics for osteoarthritis. Its preliminary Phase 1 clinical trial results were deemed “safe,” a major step in obtaining FDA approval, and the full results will be available later this year or in 2020.
Big data and AI was a major theme, with “the young data Turks” from BioAge, Gero and Insilico all making presentations about various ways to utilize increasingly large health and “omics” datasets to discover novel therapeutics. Other notable companies in the field of AI and biotech include Google’s DeepMind, which is recently making major advances in the protein folding problem, as well as Atomwise and Recursion. This area of longevity research is likely to quickly become an integral part of the field.
I had a private discussion with Eric Morgen, Chief Science Officer of BioAge, about the evolution of aging and whether a better understanding of why we age, in an evolutionary sense, is important in developing better therapies for aging. He suggested that it didn’t really matter how various aging pathways evolved, implying that big data and machine learning could ferret out drugs and other therapies regardless of how evolution got us to where we are.
Ron Kohanski from the National Institute of Aging gave a talk on biomarkers for basic and translational research and provided some commentary on the National Institute of Health (NIH) and the National Institute on Aging (NIA), which is a division of the NIH. Afterwards, Ron stated that the NIA has received significantly higher funding from Congress in recent years, and it’s actually having a hard time finding ways to usefully disburse these funds. Its research budget has increased from about $1 billion four years ago to $3.8 billion in 2018.
Steven Braithwaite, Chief Science Officer of Alkahest, talked about his company’s efforts to identify the active proteins in young plasma that have been shown in many parabiosis experiments to lead to significant anti-aging effects in mice.
Alkahest has developed novel therapeutics, AKST/GRF6019 and AKST4290, which, in various experiments, have led to improvements in cognitive ability in mice tested in Barnes mazes – significantly better improvements than seen with young plasma alone. As the figure shows, this therapy also increases the number of doublecortin-positive (recently formed) neurons in the dentate gyrus, which decline during aging. These results suggest that various plasma fraction treatments may become available “in the next few years” according to Braithwaite.
Mark Bamberger, Chief Science Officer at Stealth Biotherapeutics, talked about the role of elamipretide, a novel and first-in-class therapeutic, in improving mitochondrial function and thus energy production and cellular function more generally.
Morgan Levine, a professor with the Yale School of Medicine, presented her team’s work on creating an improved version of the epigenetic clock, which was developed by Steve Horvath and again by Gregory Hannum. She was a postdoc with Dr. Horvath, so she knows his work well. She claims that her clock is more predictive of biological age than either the Horvath (version 2) or Hannum clocks.
Joan Mannick, Chief Medical Officer of resTORbio, gave a great talk about the company’s latest research on TORC1 inhibitors based on rapalogs (drugs based on the compound rapamycin but designed to be more efficient) and a proprietary drug called RTB101. This company found that a combination of the rapalogs everolimus and sirolimus with RTB101 led to a remarkable 42% reduction in respiratory tract infections in the elderly (RTIs)
Kelsey Moody, CEO of Ichor Therapeutics, gave an impressive talk about a number of Ichor’s efforts. Ichor is a holding company with various daughter company spinoffs. Ichor creates, funds and spins off companies focused on specific aspects of aging and health. Moody also gave a half-day workshop on the first day of the conference on how to develop a pre-clinical drug pipeline for anti-aging therapies.
Lorna Harries, a professor at the University of Exeter, discussed her lab’s research on resveratrol and resveralogs (drugs based on resveratrol that are designed to have higher bioavailability) in relation to gene splicing and dysregulation. There was a remarkable increase in telomere length in lab mice treated with a resveralog; these mice had telomeres 1.3 to 2.4 times as long as those of “vehicle-only controls” as described in LaTorre, et al. 2017. Considerable research has been conducted on inducing telomere lengthening in lab animals and humans in the last few decades, and results this significant seem to indicate real promise for human therapeutics, though it is, as usual, impossible to say whether murine model results will translate well to humans.
There was also a “speed networking” session with five-minute get-to-know-you sessions at each table, with forced rotations, which seemed unusual at first but was actually pretty effective.
The organizers also included a “mastermind” group discussion session on the second day; there, groups of 10 or so people discussed a number of big-picture questions, took notes, and provided them to the organizers for collation and summary. Again, this might have seemed awkward but was in fact quite effective at spurring productive discussion.
The first iteration of this conference was considered a success, so it seems likely that we’ll see further events in the future. We would like to thank the conference organizers for giving us the opportunity to attend the event.