Allergan AGN +0.68%’s Botox was the first product to change the face of women and even men in the last decade. Today we are seeing a whole suite of companies coming up with pharmaceutical magic potions to keep people feeling and looking young forever. The search for a magical elixir to prolong life does not seem to be all that “magical” and impossible with our current technology. A host of companies from Novartis to Google GOOGL +1.51% are on a mission to conquer aging.
Imagine living 10 years more than your expected lifespan, feeling a few decades younger than your actual age, and having the mental and physical agility of someone half your age. Who wouldn’t want that? There is increasing evidence that our current biomedical science is capable of extending human life by approximately 10 years. And many companies are swarming to focus on this magic potion. When GlaxoSmithKline shelled out close to $720 million on Sirtris Pharmaceuticals, which said its drug could combat aging, the game was on. Even though this acquisition failed miserably, it started a race to create an anti-aging drug by large pharmaceuticals and young biotech companies like Google’s Calico. Calico has partnered with another pharma giant, AbbVie ABBV +0.64%, and is on a mission to reverse engineer the biology that controls lifespan and allow humans to prolong healthy lives with its $500 million investment into this project.
Currently, there are already over 100 drugs that have been found to combat aging. One such compound that achieved prominence in aging-related science was reservatrol. Reservatrol is the reason why many doctors encourage drinking red wine. Reservatrol activates an enzyme that is said to slow aging. Therefore, many pharmaceuticals saw this as a potential drug, like Sirtris. Although the effects of resveratrol in rodents have shown significant improvements, questions have emerged surrounding the effectiveness on humans. In recent years, another compound, rapamycin (TOR) kinase, has emerged as a key pathway that mediates life span extension.
One such company at the forefront of this research is Novartis. Novartis’s drug is a form of rapamycin, a compound that blocks genetic pathways that cause aging. According to its research with 200 volunteers who received the rapamycin treatment for a period of weeks, there was a 20% stronger immune response when the flu vaccine was administered. Although this drug will not be available for commercialization for at least 10 years, the potential for a viable product could create a new segment in the anti-aging market.
However, until then, the unregulated anti-aging market is bound to see many products like Elysium’s Basis, a blue pill that is believed to cause the same effects as a low-calorie diet and has proven to make mice live longer. The drug is expected to be profitable, despite the absence of human trials.
To date, it remains unclear whether reservatrol and similar compounds have significant effect on humans. Although marketing of unregulated “anti-aging” supplements that contain reservatrol has proven to be a lucrative business, there is very little evidence of the drug’s effect in combating aging. In contrast to reservatrol, there is abundant literature indicating that rapamycin has efficacy in people as both immune-suppressants and anti-cancer drugs. This compound has already gone through human trials for various diseases and shows better promise of getting FDA approval than reservatrol. The FDA-backed product will most likely eradicate the unregulated anti-aging market.
What does the future hold for this industry? Will these products be reimbursed or will we have to pay out of pocket? With the current crises in healthcare economics, it is very apparent that these pills will not be reimbursed, which calls into question the target segment for this product.
It is very likely that this drug will not be filed under cosmetics, and the FDA will scrutinize it under pharmaceutical drug regulations. What this means is that before the drug enters the market, it will need FDA approval, whereas current drugs like Basis, which falls under cosmetics, need no approval before product launch. It will not be possible for pharmaceutical companies like Novartis to commercialize the drug as a cosmetic, so the FDA will require long-term safety and efficacy tests before approval.
Now that living beyond age 100 can become a reality, we need to start looking at the implications of this progress. What would this mean for our society and, more importantly, to healthcare systems that are already under crises? The current trend of the aging population fueling medical costs will reverse. There is hope that with this preventative model of healthcare, costs will decline as people remain healthy as they grow older. But this delayed aging will also mean more people draw pensions and state benefits. Our economic system will have to change dramatically to accommodate the growing workforce, which probably will work longer than ever before. It presents an enormous opportunity for new industries to flourish and bloom by targeting the aging population, which will probably become the largest segment of all population demographics in the next 20 years.
The full article – Pharma Companies Switch Gears: A New Market Emerges Called ‘The Fountain Of Youth’ – from Forbes can be found here.
A previous post, from the JJMacey & Partners Blog, titled – The Fountain Of Youth By Novartis – can be found here.