An odd thing is happening in the world of biotechnology: an avalanche is starting.
The context is also interesting, for over the past twenty five years, a profound revolution has occurred in our understanding of aging. Where once we took aging for granted, we now reexamine the process, looking for a way to reverse it. Where once only the most avant-garde of researchers thought that perhaps we might someday learn to slow the process, now the belief that we can turn back the fundamental cellular processes has gradually become a tenet of the mainstream. Where once we looked at diet or hormones, now we look at cell aging; where once we looked at genes, we now look at epigenetics.
And where once we were pessimistic, we now see the logic behind optimism.
In my upcoming book, The Telomerase Revolution, I explain how aging works and how we can intervene to cure age-related diseases, but I also look back over the past twenty five years of biotech in aging research. Oddly enough, in every single case, the failures have not been due to flawed science, but to flawed human beings. Poor decisions, paranoia, an inability to believe one’s own data, distrust, poor public relations, bad business ethics, these are all the failures of flawed human beings, unable to avoid shooting themselves in the foot — often fatally, which is an extremely odd anatomic result, but there it is. Biotech death by foolish behavior.
And yet the science was solid.
So perhaps it’s not surprising that I finally see a new generation of biotech startups, all aimed at the holy grail of age-related disease: resetting gene expression in aging cells and thereby curing age-related disease. Perhaps it was due to the gradual growth of inescapable data, as mice and rats in Boston and Madrid have driven home the point that aging can be altered and that diseases can be reversed. Perhaps it was the coming-of-age of a generation who, when asked to explain aging, began their answers with a short explanation about telomeres and aging cells. Or perhaps it was simply about time that we got things right.
Whatever the reason, the avalanche is beginning. I see investors, lay people, entrepreneurs, and businessmen moving steadily to support biotech ventures aimed directly at resetting gene expression, resetting cell aging, resetting age-related disease, and doing what was assumed to be impossible a mere generation ago.
It’s an avalanche that — by 2020 — will demonstrate that we can not only commiserate about Alzheimer’s disease, but we can cure it. In most cases, we will not merely slow the diseases of aging, not merely fight them to a grudging standstill, but reverse their pathology. None of our current therapies for vascular disease, osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, or (least of all) Alzheimer’s disease are “disease modifying”. Our current therapies offer little solace and no hope of cure, yet a cure is precisely what the newest crop of biotechnology companies are pursuing. Of the growing number of biotechnology companies now on the edge of success, some will fail, but the avalanche is already heading down the mountain and it’s gathering speed.
It won’t stop until we get to the bottom of age-related disease.