In an article last May, we covered how Rejuvenate Bio, a startup biotech company led by Professor George Church, was planning to reverse aging in dogs as a step towards bringing these therapies to us. Those plans are now starting to move forward with news of a trial launch in the fall later this year.
Developing anti-aging therapies in dogs is the first step
Back in 2015, the Church lab at Harvard began testing a variety of therapies focused on age reversal using CRISPR, a gene editing system that was much easier and faster to use than older techniques. Since then, Professor Church and his lab have conducted a myriad of experiments and gathered lots of data with which to plan future strategies for tackling aging.
Last year, we learned that Rejuvenate Bio had already conducted some initial studies with beagles and were planning to reverse aging using CRISPR gene therapy. The goal was to move these studies forward to a larger scale as a step towards bringing similar therapies to humans to prevent age-related diseases. Professor Church was so confident that his team would find a solution, he even suggested that he may be one of the first human volunteers once therapies finally reach people.
“Dogs are a market in and of themselves,” Church said during the 2018 Radical Wellness event in Boston. “It’s not just a big organism close to humans. It’s something that people will pay for, and the FDA process is much faster. We’ll do dog trials, and that’ll be a product, and that’ll pay for scaling up in human trials.”
Choosing to develop therapies for dogs helps pave the way for therapies that address the aging processes in humans and could support their approval, which would otherwise be much more challenging. Currently, if you were to tell the FDA that you want to increase lifespan in humans by 20 years, you would need to come back in 20-30 years with the data, which just isn’t practical.
However, if Rejuvenate Bio can produce robust data in dogs showing that some processes of aging have been reversed, it lends considerable justification for human trials. The company is also taking a different tack; instead of focusing on increasing lifespan, it is instead targeting an age-related disease common in dogs, which should be cured if age reversal occurs.
This is based on the concept that in order to treat age-related diseases and cure them, you need to target the root causes of those diseases, which are the underlying aging processes themselves. If Rejuvenate Bio is successful, this would lend additional supporting evidence that directly treating aging to prevent age-related diseases could also work in humans.
Gene therapy trial for mitral valve disease
Rejuvenate Bio has now announced that it will be launching a gene therapy trial in dogs during the fall this year to combat mitral valve disease (MVD), a condition commonly encountered in the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel breed and directly caused by the aging processes. The study will initially focus on this particular breed and expand to include other dogs with MVD as time passes.
We are developing a novel cardio-protective gene therapy to stop the progression of heart failure in dogs. As a part of the technical development, we will launch a study in dogs with Mitral Valve Disease (MVD) in the fall of 2019. This study will provide valuable information that will aid our effort to address MVD.
MVD is due to the failure of the mitral valve in the heart, a one-way valve between the two chambers of the heart that prevents the backflow of blood as it is pumped around the body. As aging occurs, the mitral valve can degenerate, which allows backflow to occur, leading to left atrial chamber enlargement, congestive heart failure, and, ultimately, death.
This gene therapy is focused on adding a new piece of DNA into the cells of the dogs in order to halt the buildup of fibrotic scar tissue in the heart, which is linked to the progression of MVD and other forms of heart failure. Fibrotic tissue is the result of imperfect repair, which occurs when a more complete repair is not possible due to a lack of replacement cells or high levels of inflammation.
The researchers are keen to point out that this new piece of DNA is not passed onto the offspring of the animal and cannot transfer between dogs. This is because the therapy does not alter the DNA in the germline cells, the cells that are involved in reproduction and passing on genetics to an organism’s offspring.
If you wish to enroll your Cavalier King Charles Spaniel in the trial coming this fall, then register your interest with Rejuvenate Bio to learn more about eligibility and how to apply.
This is a very exciting study and, as the company discusses on its project page, the therapy may also be useful for other heart conditions, such as dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM). If the initial results are successful, it would be highly likely that we could see more dog breeds included as well as other conditions, including DCM, added to the program.
We wish Professor Church and Rejuvenate Bio every success, as this forms the basis for potentially moving such therapies into human trials more quickly as well as potentially helping our furry friends to live longer, healthier lives as well. We love our pets, and it is only logical that we should want the same healthy and longer lives for them as we do for ourselves, and the process for them is the same for us: new medical innovations that target the aging processes directly in order to end age-related diseases.