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The Science of Senescence

This article was originally published in Start Up

Executive Summary

The topic of longevity has fascinated explorers since long before Ponce de Leon went looking for the fountain of youth. Today's explorations involve the study of genes and metabolic pathways in organisms that for some unknown reason live longer than their peers.

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The Genomics of Longevity

A group of drug discovery companies believes it has found a way to use scientific discoveries about the genetics of aging to develop novel drugs for specific diseases. These companies begin with insights from animal models of longevity and long-lived human populations, which they hope will help them discover new targets for age-related diseases. Several companies have rallied around calorie restriction, an intervention known to increase lifespan in laboratory animals, and are characterizing genetic and phenotypic changes associated with calorie restriction. Others believe they have found key genes that regulate aging, and hope to use this knowledge to develop drugs for such age-related as diseases as cardiovascular disease, stroke, cancer, and diabetes. The challenges for companies will be to validate mechanisms implicated in aging, and then link them to specific diseases. However, the diseases of aging are some of the toughest drug development categories; they're often progressive diseases that develop over the course of years, and proving that drugs slow down disease progression or prevent onset involves tough endpoints.

The Genomics of Longevity

A group of drug discovery companies believes it has found a way to use scientific discoveries about the genetics of aging to develop novel drugs for specific diseases. These companies begin with insights from animal models of longevity and long-lived human populations, which they hope will help them discover new targets for age-related diseases. Several companies have rallied around calorie restriction, an intervention known to increase lifespan in laboratory animals, and are characterizing genetic and phenotypic changes associated with calorie restriction. Others believe they have found key genes that regulate aging, and hope to use this knowledge to develop drugs for such age-related as diseases as cardiovascular disease, stroke, cancer, and diabetes. The challenges for companies will be to validate mechanisms implicated in aging, and then link them to specific diseases. However, the diseases of aging are some of the toughest drug development categories; they're often progressive diseases that develop over the course of years, and proving that drugs slow down disease progression or prevent onset involves tough endpoints.

Rejuvenon Corp.

Roy Smith, a pre-eminent researcher on the growth hormone pathway, has identified a receptor on the human growth hormone/insulin-like growth factor axis that is an upstream regulator of growth hormones. Rejuvenon Corp. hopes to develop small-molecule activators of this receptor to treat the diseases of aging.

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