Liz Parrish is a leading voice for genetic cures and the CEO of BioViva, a company pushing to understand and treat biological aging. She is also actively involved in international educational media outreach and is a founding member of the International Longevity Alliance (ILA).
“From diagnosing aging related dysfunctions, to predicting future ill health, preventing sickness using gene and cell therapies, and maintaining optimal health using advanced nutritional support — we deeply care about the health and well being of all, and using our clinics and our products we want to deliver personalized, precision, preventive, and participatory medicine to the masses.”
The following has been paraphrased from an interview with Liz Parrish on November 22nd, 2017 discussing the work of BioViva and the future of aging.
(Full audio version)
You started your own gene therapy trial by injecting yourself with an adeno associate virus that allowed you to insert a gene that lengthens your telomeres as well as a myostatin inhibitor, what if any effects have you noticed so far?
After two years we have noticed nothing but positive effects so far. We saw a 50% reduction in my triglyceride levels, a 25% reduction in blood glucose, a six-fold reduction in my C-reactive proteins (a sign of inflammation), an increase in telomere length in my T-lymphocytes, as well as an increase in muscle mass and a decrease in intramuscular fat.
Are you the only one that has been recruited in this trial?
We are trying to do trials in different parts of the world to create what will be the largest number of patients going through safety and efficacy trials for gene therapy. Many companies in Gene therapy started with N of 1 trials (single subject clinical trials), but since we are targeting complex diseases of aging we believe we should be treating higher numbers of patients to better measure safety and efficacy.
You note that 97% of drugs today are used to treat symptoms of disease rather than disease itself, how does Bioviva hope to change this?
As a medical community we really are just batting at the symptoms we see once we have an illness. It is akin to waiting for a patient with pneumonia to develop a cough and then treat the cough rather than treating the root cause, which in this case may be bacterial, viral or fungal infection. We need to go deeper by targeting the cells, with gene therapy you can make cells that create antibodies and proteins that keep the cell young. We have to get to what is happening at the cellular level rather than just waiting for symptoms to emerge.
All diseases of aging are just some form of cellular degeneration. Some other diseases that we typically don’t associate with aging are also a result of cellular degeneration. This is the case for some autoimmune disorders, metabolic syndrome, and even Parkinson’s which has been found in some very young patients, are all symptoms of accelerated aging due to cellular dysfunction. We need to drill down to the cell and create a body that keeps homeostasis for a longer period of time.
Asides from gene therapy, what do you believe are the most promising therapies in development?
I think gene therapy is the best one as eventually it will enable our cells to repair damage at least as quickly as it accumulates. Another important one is stem cells that will allow us to repair and even regrow organs from people’s own cells so they won’t be rejected after transplantation.
A third area I am very interested in is glycation breakers, these are misfolded proteins that clump up. One example is cataracts, when people have cataracts in their eyes cloud over and they have a hard time seeing. But actually glycation is a problem in the entire body.
Also repurposing drugs that target various metabolic pathways. We see this for instance in Metformin, a drug for type 2 diabetes. Research showed that type 2 diabetics on Metformin had longer and healthier lives compared to people who were taking other insulin sensitizers. This pro-longevity effect of metformin may translate to non-diabetic people, as well.
You’ve identified 9 hallmarks of aging, do you think these apply equally to the brain? What is BioViva doing in neurodegeneration?
We believe that whole body health is what matters. It’s no good if we have a liver that can live for ten thousand years but our brains degenerate when we are 80. One image we use is that of a normal 25 year old brain and that of an 85 year old brain, both with no diagnosed ailments. The attrition in damage to the 85 year old brain just from living is significant. We need to realize that these problems apply to the whole body.
The cellular hallmarks of aging include stem cell depletion, intracellular and extracellular communication, deregulated nutrient sensing, mitochondrial dysfunction, genomic instability, cellular senescence, telomere attrition, epigenetic alterations and loss of proteostasis. These processes are the reasons why cells degenerate and ultimately cause the diseases of aging. These are happening all over the body, none are specific to one organ. Today we are trying to tackle Alzheimer’s, cancer, heart disease and kidney dysfunction, but ultimately these are just symptoms of aging. Instead of treating the symptoms Biovia is looking at specific gene therapies for different parts of the body to repair the hallmarks of aging.
As far as the brain goes, the biggest difference is the blood brain barrier. Another problem with brain health is how slowly cells regenerate in the brain and the ability of the brain to remove any damage that occurs. Special therapeutics will be made for the brain and their administration will be specific, but treating biological aging is still what we have to do and there will be similarities with how we treat the other organs.
BioViva aims to stop and reverse all signs of aging. What do you see as the biggest potential drawbacks in a world where humans don’t age?
If I saw drawbacks to healthier people I wouldn’t be in this business. I think that people who live healthy long lives behave differently. We know that as people get critically sick or get closer to death they tend to shut the rest of the world out. So I don’t see a problem as long as we use it to make the right decisions. I shun risk aversion when it comes to healthier people.
We looked at long term data and found that when people live longer birth rates go down throughout the world, regardless of culture. We also know that as people live longer and birth rates go down they start solving more critical problems. This is what enabled industrialization, people lived long enough to learn a technology and become proficient at it.
I don’t think until we break the lifespan of 150 with humans that we have to start worrying. There is a lot that needs to be done before we get bodies that repair damage as fast as it happens. But I think we should start preparing for this. The number of people today that will live past a hundred years old will increase by 1004% by 2050. Right now people on average live to 65 or 70 by the time they are diagnosed with one of the symptoms of biological aging, by the time you are 80 you have an 80% likelihood of having two or more of these diseases. We can’t afford the amount of illness that is happening in the population, to stop trying to create healthy humans because we fear some downstream effects is ridiculous.