A researcher who has successfully used “antiaging techniques” on dogs says it is long past time conventional medicine starts doing the same for humans.
Celine Halioua has a plan to take the emerging field of “life extension” mainstream, and it involves man’s best friend. Her Silicon Valley-based startup, Cellular Longevity Inc., is developing treatments that extend the life span of dogs while also making them more active in their later years. Should such treatments work in canines, Halioua, 26, expects consumers and regulators will be more favorably disposed to approving similar techniques to be used on humans.
“Dogs are unquestionably considered the best model of human aging,” says Halioua, who studied neuroscience and then worked for a longevity-focused venture capital fund. “We have co-evolved with them, and they have a shared environment with us. They also develop age-related diseases over time. If we can do this for dogs, people will want it, too.” Her company, operating under the brand Loyal, has raised $11 million and plans to start trials in early 2022 on two compounds with potential antiaging properties. Halioua declines to identify them at this time, sighting intellectual property issues.
The main barrier to developing anti-aging drugs and therapies for people is that we live too long. Drug companies are reluctant to invest in clinical trials that stretch over decades, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is more comfortable with medications that tackle a specific illness or symptom rather than something as broad and abstract as aging. As a result, a number of promising antiaging compounds have been largely untested on people in traditional clinical settings.
The notion of running these types of trials on dogs first is not entirely new. Over the past several years, about 30,000 dog owners have entered their pets into the Dog Aging Project, an academic research study backed by $25 million from the National Institutes of Health. The project examines how genetic and environmental factors affect dogs’ aging processes, and it’s also running a trial in which about 200 middle-aged dogs will receive the compound rapamycin, which is used by people to prevent organ transplant rejection and some types of cancer. “Rapamycin seems to delay or reverse aging in pretty much every tissue where it has been looked at,” says Matt Kaeberlein, a professor of pathology at the University of Washington and the project’s co-director.
Kaeberlein says that he’s used rapamycin himself to reduce inflammation and pain in his shoulder. “I’m a believer,” he says, though he stresses that his experience should not be taken as a recommendation for others to conduct similar experiments.
Halioua’s startup intends to recruit hundreds of pet owners for the studies, aiming to get a therapy approved for dogs by 2024. The first will target larger breeds, which have a shorter life span, while the second will be for all breeds. The hope is that pet owners could expect these animals to live longer—anywhere from six months to three years—and also have better, more active lives.
According to reporting by Business Week, Halioua shies away from predicting exactly how much she thinks a dog’s life can eventually be expanded, but she tamps down any expectation of a sci-fi result. “We are not going to make 80-year-old dogs,” she says. She’s also vague on pricing, saying only that Loyal’s products will be “affordable but not dirt cheap” and will come down in price over time.
She says the dog-first approach could be the key to helping people warm up to antiaging technology. “If it works, it changes the whole psychology around aging drugs in general,” she says. “It could be this important moment where these drugs become more mainstream.”