British biotech races ‘buff billionaires’ for eternal youth.

Twelve-five amateur cyclists from across the United Kingdom entered the laboratories of King’s College London approximately ten years ago. They participated in a long-term study on how regular exercise impacts ageing. Their ages ranged from 55 to 79.

Professor of immune cell biology at Birmingham University, Janet Lord, and Professor of King’s, Steve Harridge, conducted the study. The crew was surprised by several findings when examining the bikers’ bodies and collecting blood samples for years, Lord said.

Her subjects, whom she characterised as “extremely enthusiastic cyclists,” were in reasonable physical condition, cycling for as much as 60 miles per week.

“Our research revealed misconceptions such as increased body obesity, regarding which many individuals stated, ‘Oh, that’s normal with ageing; there’s nothing you can do about it.’ These were proven to be unfounded. They were not present within this cohort. In comparison, they were in good health and did not engage in regular physical activity. “Our group experienced minimal bone mass loss and no discernible muscle atrophy,” said Lord, director of the university’s Institute for Inflammation and Ageing and special adviser to the House of Lords inquiry into ageing, whose report was published in 2021.

The Surprising Resilience of Aging Cyclists

The thymus gland, which produces white blood cells, was the most shocking discovery. It typically diminishes with age, but not in the case of the cyclists. Its decline inhibits the immune systems of humans. “Therefore, your proficiency in reacting to novel infections such as Covid or vaccines is somewhat diminished,” Lord explained.

She and her team continue to watch riders to identify the best workout volume and intensity for health.

Emerging Longevity Biotechnology Firms

This study is one of many done at British universities as the UK becomes a global leader in ageing research. According to Insight Analytics, the longevity science sector, which is still in its inception, is projected to reach $2 billion (£1.6 billion) by 2030, equating to a multibillion-dollar industry.

Several longevity biotechnology firms, including Senisca in Exeter, Genflow Biosciences in London, Shift Bioscience, and in Cambridge, have emerged. In the United States, the pack is led by California-based companies including Unity Biotechnology, Retro Biosciences, and Altos Labs, which has a research institute in Cambridge, California and is funded by Alphabet, the owner of Google.

“In terms of the calibre and volume of our scientific output in the field of ageing, we significantly outperform our expectations,” said Lorna Harries, a molecular genetics professor at the University of Exeter and founder of the spinoff Senisca in 2020. “However, despite the fact that we are a scientific superpower, we must improve our capacity to translate our discoveries into tangible outcomes in the real world.”

Challenges in Commercializing Longevity Research

Many of these companies are trying to develop a cell-healthy formula to extend our lifespan. Females born in the UK in 2020 are expected to live 90 years and boys 87 years.

Prof. Lynne Cox, an authority on cell senescence at the University of Oxford, stated, “If you did everything correctly and were fortunate enough to have the right genes, you could potentially live to be 120 years old.” Damaged or stressed cells enter senescence, which can affect nearby tissues.

In general, ageing is defined as the progressive accumulation of cellular injury or wear and tear, which can result in function loss and prevalent diseases including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, dementia, and cancer.

American anatomist Leonard Hayflick discovered over sixty years ago that human cells divide up to a point before senescence.

A groundbreaking study conducted by Cynthia Kenyon at the University of California, San Francisco, in 1993, established that mutations occurring in a single gene within a particular species of worm could result in an increase in their life span. Nonetheless, this was not replicable in humans. Various attempts at cellular reprogramming and other modifications to halt or reverse senescence are currently underway.

A London-listed firm Genflow Biosciences, which became the first longevity company to float in Europe in December, attempts to develop a therapy that can restore DNA damage and increase our lifespan by 25% by utilising a gene variant discovered in centenarians. For 18 months, it will test a therapy for NASH, an age-related liver disease.

Cell Rejuvenation Initiatives

“Some individuals are fortunate enough to possess the good gene, and we want to share that good fortune with everyone,” said Genflow’s founder Eric Leire. “Therefore, not a select few individuals will have the opportunity to reach the age of 120 without ever having to undergo chemotherapy.”

Senisca is studying ways to revive ageing cells by restoring their DNA expression control.

Harries stated, “Our fundamental discovery dates back nearly 15 years.” “Since the cell’s environment is unique, each gene is capable of encoding a variety of distinct instructions-containing messages.” As cells age, they lose this ability, resulting in senescence and inability to respond to environmental signals.

She further stated, “We have discovered that by reinstating the functionality of those genes. We can restore the cell’s capacity to produce the substances it requires, thereby facilitating cell rejuvenation.” Within the next decade, Senisca intends to develop therapies that are beneficial to the elderly.

Using machine learning, Daniel Ives, a former biologist from Cambridge University and co-founder of Shift Bioscience, investigates cellular reprogramming.

Advancements in Cellular Age Reversal

Steve Horvath, a German-American geneticist, was a trailblazer in developing the initial precise “clock” that estimated human ageing through the analysis of chemical modifications to DNA in various tissues. Shift established a single-cell ageing clock to find safe gene combinations for cellular reprogramming. After two years, testing is anticipated to commence on rodents, then human cells in the laboratory, and finally on humans.

Steve Ives, the chief financial officer of Shift and the father of Ives, stated: “The concept is to introduce DNA into cells in order to initiate processes that render those cells biologically youthful. “This new emphasis on reprogramming represents, in essence, a paradigm shift that targets the underlying causes of ageing.”

International Anti-Aging Innovations

Before 2030, CEO Markus Gstottner and co-founder Mark Kotter plan to start a cell rejuvenation clinical study.

The anti-aging sector in the United States has garnered significant attention from a group of health-obsessed technology entrepreneurs, some of whom have gained notoriety as “buff billionaires” due to their recent fitness discoveries. Altos Labs is backed by Jeff Bezos, the proprietor of Amazon.

Peter Thiel, the founder of PayPal and Bezos, is an investor in San Francisco-based Unity Biotechnology. The company’s primary objective is to restore damaged tissues by eliminating or modulating senescent cells. Initially, it aims to treat neurological disorders and ocular diseases. Sam Altman, chief executive officer of OpenAI and an entrepreneur specialising in artificial intelligence, has made investments in Retro Biosciences and NewLimit, both of which are cellular reprogramming-focused ventures supported by Brian Armstrong, chief executive officer of Coinbase and a cryptocurrency billionaire.

“Based on the amount of research we conduct, there are far fewer startups in this industry in the United Kingdom than one might expect,” Harries explained. “I assume this is because UK academics are not entrepreneurially ready.”

British academicians, according to Cox, frequently have too many other obligations. “At this time, there are no incentives for academicians to invest in startups; doing so would be an extremely risky endeavour […] Many universities have considerable difficulty conceptualising commercialization.

The absence of a flourishing venture capital industry to finance businesses is cited by Lord. “It is enormous in the United States, but we simply lack that here.” Consequently, we depend heavily on government funding. It would be beneficial if more venture capitalists were intrigued by the developments taking place in the United Kingdom.

Targeting Inflammation and Gut Health

An area of investigation pertains to inflammation, which serves as a primary catalyst for biological senescence. “Viral DNA fragments have crept into the human genome over the course of our evolution, and they are normally repressed,” said Cox. However, as we age, they reappear and initiate inflammation, which is the body’s natural reaction to an infection. Additionally, the immune system is outdated and therefore unable to combat it.

Oxford researchers are studying how to boost aged immune systems by enhancing cell autophagy, which removes trash.

In addition to passing on longevity genes, academics assert that having the proper gut flora is crucial. A distinction was made by Japanese researchers between the gut bacteria of centenarians and those of other elderly individuals. One bacterium possesses antibiotic properties and eliminates pathogenic bacteria residing in the intestine.

Additionally, social and economic factors are significant. Cox states, “People living in socioeconomic deprivation have a greater degree of cell senescence and inflammation.” “They are subject to things such as pollution and unhealthy diets.” Furthermore, their accelerated senescence is revealed by a molecular signature.

Addressing the Underlying Causes of Age-Related Issues

A paradigm shift is being discussed by researchers: the transition from addressing the consequences of age-related maladies to addressing their underlying causes will alleviate the strain on the NHS and other health systems.

Some are certain that the United Kingdom is capable of becoming an industry leader in longevity. Professor of clinical trials for older persons at Newcastle University, Miles Witham, asserts, “The United Kingdom is a global leader in both laboratory ageing research and the epidemiology of ageing. The most challenging aspect is ensuring that our knowledge is implemented in human clinical trials and, ultimately, in the clinic [for patients]. In reality, there is not enough of this happening in any nation across the globe. Our objective is to ensure that the United Kingdom leads the way in this matter.

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