The Fountain Of Youth has always been a fair off fairy-tale concept, but with technology and science expanding faster than ever before, it make not be a fairy-tale for long. An anti-aging startup hopes to give you the ability to live forever.
The company, Elysium Health, is turning chemicals that lengthen the lives of mice and worms in the laboratory into over-the-counter vitamin pills that people can take to combat the aging process.
The startup is being founded by Leonard Guarente, an MIT biologist who is 62 (“unfortunately,” he says) and who’s convinced that the process of aging can be slowed by tweaking the body’s metabolism.
The problem, Guarente says, is that it’s nearly impossible to prove, in any reasonable time frame, that drugs that extend the lifespan of animals can do the same in people; such an experiment could take decades. That’s why Guarente says he decided to take the unconventional route of packaging cutting-edge lab research as so-called nutraceuticals, which don’t require clinical trials or approval by the FDA.
This means there’s no guarantee that Elysium’s first product, a blue pill called Basis that is going on sale this week, will actually keep you young. The product contains a chemical precursor to nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide, or NAD, a compound that cells use to carry out metabolic reactions like releasing energy from glucose.
The company says it will follow strict pharmaceutical-quality production standards and make the supplements available solely through its website, for $60 for a 30-day supply or $50 per month with an ongoing subscription.
“You have high-end prescription drugs up here, which are expensive,” says Guarente, gesturing upward. “And you have the nutraceuticals down there, which are a pig in a poke—you don’t know what you’re getting and you don’t know a lot about the science behind them. There’s this vast space in between that could be filled in a way that’s useful for health maintenance.” Leonard explains.
The U.S boasts a $30 billion supplements market with a yearly increase of 7 percent making the dietary over the counter pill a drop in the hat.
Elysium declined to name its investors, but it has some high-level endorsements. Its board includes Daniel Fabricant, former director of the FDA’s division of dietary supplements and now CEO of the Natural Products Association, a trade association. The company also has five Nobel Prize winners advising it including neuroscientist Eric Kandel, biologist Thomas Südhof, origin-of-life theorist Jack Szostak, and the 2013 laureate in chemistry Martin Karplus.
Karplus, now an emeritus professor at Harvard, said in a telephone interview that he was turning 85 this year and had asked the company to send him a supply of Basis as soon as it’s available. “I want to remind myself whether I really want to take it or not,” says Karplus.
Extending the life of laboratory mice by feeding them less, a process known as “caloric restriction.” has been effective in the science community. That process seems to be mediated by biological molecules called sirtuins. NAD is important because it’s a chemical that sirtuins need to do their work and is also involved in other aspects of a cell’s metabolism. In worms, mice, and people, NAD levels fall with age, says Guarente, so the idea is to increase levels of the molecule.
“NAD replacement is one of the most exciting things happening in the biology of aging,” says Nir Barzilai, director of the Institute for Aging Research at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, who has coauthored scientific papers with Guarente but is not involved in Elysium.
Guarente isn’t seeing obvious benefits from his supplement just yet, but it doesn’t trouble him at all. Too many studies in the anti-aging field, he says, are too short-term to show real benefits. Or else they study people who are already unhealthy. “I think that’s the way it would be if something is really acting to slow your progression into decrepitude—you’re not going to notice that,” Guarente says.