How the UK is at the forefront of a global mission to improve the ageing process
Dr Chris Doherty, managing director, Alderley Park
There are approximately 7.7 billion people in the world. In the next thirty years that is set to rise to a staggering ten billion, and it’s estimated that over two billion of those will be over the age of 60. Therefore it’s not surprising that there’s an increasing acknowledgement that it’s crucial to find ways of how we can help people enjoy and lead better lives for longer.
Healthy aging is one of the key topics for debate at the BIO International Convention this week. The event will see delegates descend upon Philadelphia to share the latest insights and discoveries from the global pharma and biotech industries.
As we age the mechanisms by which our body has previously kept us healthy and fought off diseases start to fail. Leading to an increased likelihood of developing potentially fatal conditions such as cancer, diabetes or cardiovascular disease. In recent years, there has been an increasing acknowledgement amongst the R&D community that the best way to counteract the threat such conditions offer is not tackling each one individually, but rather developing drugs that counteract the aging process itself.
While anti-aging drugs may have previously belonged in the realm of science fiction, it is more and more likely that we will see them deployed regularly within the next 50 years, particularly as breakthroughs are made in stem cell research. During the early stages of life, reserves of uncommitted stem cells are able to keep us healthy and help protect the body when threatened by disease. As we age, such stem cells weaken and lose their potency – therefore a key element of current research is investigating what can be done to either implant artificially grown stem cells inside the body, or improve the strength of the natural supply.
While the former currently poses many challenges, there’s real hope the latter can be achieved. A recent study has shown that the compound nicotinamide riboside can enhance muscle cell function. While this is still in the early stages, it marks a positive development that we can hope plays a key role in anti-aging. Alderley Park has an emerging cluster of businesses that are working in stem cell research, regenerative medicine and new antibiotics that will improve the chances of recovery from serious illnesses.
One such business in the AMR Centre, which plays a pivotal role in the country’s response to the global threat from antimicrobial resistance. it is focused on accelerating the development of new antibiotics and diagnostics by working with international SMEs and pharmaceutical companies to fast track their potentially vital new products into clinical trials.
By reducing the body’s susceptibility to infections and chronic pain, we also reduce the need for the regular use of antibiotics. While this is important for the population as a whole, there’s significantly higher use of antibiotics in elderly people as part of recovery from major operations and illnesses – such as hip replacements or pneumonia. That’s why the work the AMR Centre undertakes is so important.
Another company, Gelmetrix, a diversified therapeutic biomaterials company focusses on regenerative medicine. A spin off from the University of Manchester, it develops multiple grades of polymer gel to provide affordable, non-invasive alternatives to surgery. In practice, this will result in early-stage, minimally invasive, effective and affordable solutions to either chronic pain or poor functioning of the body.
Other businesses making strides in the field of anti-aging include Boyd Consultants, a UK leader in a unique regulatory area, and CROs such as Evotec and Concept Life Sciences.
The journey to making anti-aging drugs a reality and helping people live better lives for longer through new antibiotics and regenerative medicines will be a complex road that requires transparency and global collaboration. The North of England’s ecosystem which includes the University of Newcastle’s Institute for Aging – a world leader in its field, is a perfect example of the joined up approach that will help the industry make real progress in this field. The cluster of businesses at Alderley Park are supportive of each other’s work and share intelligence and research, while the presence of Cancer Research UK means they are able to tap into the resources of one of the country’s leading authorities on next generation cancer treatments.
To find out more, say hello to Alderley Park on the UK pavilion at BIO or visit alderleypark.co.uk/science.