The launch of the Longevity Biotechnology Association (LBA), announced on November 17th in London, looks like a tectonic shift for the longevity field. We have asked some of the founders about the rationale behind this unprecedented initiative and how it can change geroscience.
A triple association
“A scientist, a CEO, and an investor walk into a bar…” This is not very far from how LBA was actually created: an association of three overlapping but distinctive groups: academia, industry, and investors.
According to James Peyer, CEO of Cambrian Biopharma and one of the founders:
The LBA idea started when a few of us including Jim Mellon (co-founder of Juvenescence) and Mehmood Khan (CEO of Hevolution Foundation and former CSO of PepsiCo) were doing a panel conference on Zoom together and were asked about how the biggest longevity biotech companies could collaborate. We decided to think very seriously about it and realized there were a few topics: defining what a longevity biotech company is, helping to set standards for clinical trials that would benefit everyone, and promoting education. We decided to create a nonprofit forum to collaborate on those topics. It was Jim who first said, “We will do this thing!”
What came out of this conversation was the most serious attempt to date to organize the longevity field around certain basic needs, values, and ideas in order to propel it forward.
The list of founding members is impressive. It includes Nir Barzilai of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine; Joe Betts-Lacroix, CEO of Retro Biosciences; Laura Deming, founder and partner at the Longevity Fund; Kristen Fortney, CEO of BioAge; Michael Greve, founder of the Forever Healthy Foundation; Brian Kennedy, former President and CEO of the Buck Institute; Nils Regge, co-founder at Apollo Health Ventures; David Sinclair, co-director of the Center for Biology and Aging at Harvard Medical School; Matthias Steger, CEO of Rejuveron Life Sciences, and Sergey Young, founder of the Longevity Vision Fund.
United we stand
We have already seen a few somewhat similar initiatives. However, LBA will likely be larger than its counterparts, as it intends to serve as a united “voice for the industry,” as Kristen Fortney puts it. According to her, LBA should be able:
to reach consensus about the best ways to evaluate aging in a clinical context and then speak directly to regulatory bodies like the FDA to encourage them to adopt policies that help bring drugs to market as safely, effectively, and rapidly as possible.
However, the longevity field is diverse, and there is a lot of difference of opinion when it comes to even defining aging, not to mention treating it. As Fortney explains,
I don’t want to understate the diversity of this group, there are a lot of perspectives and approaches represented here, but there are two key points of agreement. First, we want to increase public and government awareness of the enormous unmet need related to diseases of aging, the vast potential of longevity biotech to meet this need, and to change the regulatory landscape in order to bring medicines to people as soon as possible. Second, we all believe that we can and should try to prevent and cure age-related diseases, not just manage the symptoms.
James Peyer echoes this on Twitter as follows:
I love the incredible community of leaders in our field – brilliant people from all over the world, diverse backgrounds, different ages – united around a single mission:
Reducing the incredible suffering experienced by older people and the loss of the bereaved
Three major roles
From what the founders are saying, it looks like LBA will be playing three major roles: as a concerted voice of the longevity field vis-à-vis regulatory bodies and other stakeholders; as the hub for collaboration between its three major elements (academia, companies, and investors); and by setting standards for the entire field.
For instance, one of the hottest areas in geroscience is the development of biomarkers of aging. Before the first biomarkers were invented, there was no way to measure the anti-aging effect of interventions in long-lived species, including humans. Today, epigenetic clocks that measure biological age are into their second generation, and many other biomarkers of aging have been proposed. Standardizing them would be another major leap that might greatly accelerate the development and approval of anti-aging therapies. According to LBA’s founders, this is one of the pressing issues that the association will pursue. “If every group had their own biomarkers, it would hurt the field,” explains Peyer.
Yet another area of collaboration, according to Peyer, is “the sharing of data that will ultimately lead to approvable endpoints for running multi-disease prevention trials.” It is important to understand what Peyer means by that. Biomarkers of aging might be a good initial measure of success, but for human clinical trials, we need something more substantial. We can’t wait for the study participants to die of old age, so how can we be sure that an intervention is working?
Multi-disease prevention trials, such as Treating Aging with Metformin (TAME), a pioneering human trial with Barzilai as its lead scientist, provide an answer. TAME seeks to prove that metformin, one of the most promising anti-aging drugs, can delay the onset of several age-related diseases at once (hence “multi-disease prevention”), since this is exactly what an anti-aging intervention should be able to do. In his tweet about the launch, Barzilai said that “the LBA understands the promise of TAME in recruiting investment to biotech.”
The time was ripe
Why did a large-scale initiative like this only appear today? According to Fortney,
The science had to come first; in order to have a Longevity Biotech Association, longevity biotech had to exist. The biology of aging has come of age and started to bear fruit – the first wave of aging therapies is already in the clinic. There’s more of a need for LBA today than there was 10 or 20 years ago because, although the potential of the field was recognized, the drugs simply didn’t exist yet.
Fortney also mentions “the exponentially growing amount of human data”. The lack of such data impeded the development of the longevity field for years. Today, the avalanche of data coming from various sources, including longitudinal studies and wearable devices, can power a new generation of studies.
Many people in the field share this strong feeling that the tide is turning on all fronts, be it research, regulation, policy, or investments. “There is a wave to target aging,” Barzilai says. “It’s huge, and it has to include lots of potential players – politicians, journalists, lobbyists, doctors, scientists, which is why we need strong leadership to sustain and move things rapidly.”
The LBA is a clear sign that the longevity field is ready to be taken seriously and start making some real impact. After decades of being on the outskirts of medicine, geroscience may have finally acquired the critical mass for explosive growth, which LBA will hopefully be able to direct and facilitate.
You may also this video about the LBA launch by the Lifespan News team.