BASEL, Switzerland – A promising study of the bacterial agent rapamycin from Swiss pharmaceutical giant Novartis AG(NVS) that showed improvements in autoimmune responses of elderly patients may hold a key in unlocking the key to an anti-aging medication.
Rapamycin, which was originally discovered on Easter Island, has shown promise in blocking the genetics of aging and aging-related diseases such as cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s disease. A Novartis study released in December 2014 that looked at experimental drug RAD001 (rapamycin), a member of the mTOR inhibitors class of drugs, revealed surprising results that could help unlock a key to the anti-aging process.
The elderly volunteer patients, ages 65 and older, who received multiple doses of rapamycin over a period of weeks showed a 20 percent improvement in their immune response after being given an influenza vaccine. Additionally the study showed the reduction of PD-1 receptors in patients, which inhibits T-cell signaling.
Novartis researchers called the findings of the study “baby steps” in aging research. Dr. Joan Mannick, executive director of the New Indications Discovery Unit at the Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research, the lead author of the study, said continuing work with rapamycin could lead to improvements in delaying age-related illness and, perhaps, extend people’s lives. However, clinical trials studying the safety and risks associated with using mTOR inhibitors use as an age-defying treatment have not been conducted.
That kind of success of counteracting aging and delaying aging-related diseases has been seen in animals who receive doses of mTOR inhibitors. When used in mice, rapamycin has been shown to reduce age-related bone loss, reversed cardiac aging and chronic inflammation.
Some researchers who have studied rapamycin for years have argued the drug can be used to stave off life-threatening illnesses and defy aging. In an article published by Bloomberg today some of those interviewed said the medication held off life-threatening cancers for years. Once the scientists stopped taking rapamycin, the tumors returned and he died shortly thereafter, the article said.
In September 2014, Novartis Chairman Joerg Reinhardt announced the company’s new commitment to aging research during a conference in Switzerland. Identifying the pathways and proteins associated with aging could yield promising drug targets, he said in a statement.
In addition to age-related illnesses, rapamycin is often used as a coating on cardiac stents to prevent scarring and blocking. Derivatives of rapamycin have also been approved for use against certain kidney, lung, and breast cancers.
Novartis isn’t the only company to seek a “fountain of youth” drug solution. Other pharmaceutical companies have attempted to defy the aging process, including a $720 million gamble by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) that did not pan out. More recently Calico, a Google Inc. science division specifically targeted at aging, has partnered with Illinois-based AbbVie (ABBV) to reverse engineer the biological aging process in people. The $500 million partnership is slated for a 10-year period to advance its experimental drugs through Phase IIa studies and small mid-stage trials that will establish a likelihood the drugs may work in larger studies.