A bacterium found on Easter Island is the source of a drug that extends life in lab animals, and researchers want to know if it could do the same for humans, but research and regulatory hurdles may make the road ahead a long one.


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Hot on the heels of the world’s first human anti-aging trial, which, ironically, itself was announced just a few weeks ago a second healthcare company, PureTech, who are licensing two new drug molecules, and the right to use them to combat aging and age related disease, from Novartis, have announced that they’re going to be trialling their own anti-aging pill on humans later this year under the umbrella of a new joint venture with Novartis called resTORbio.

The aim of the first trial will be to test whether or not the drugs rejuvenate aged human immune cells – after all, you have to start somewhere.

The new drug is a derivative of Rapamycin, a compound first discovered oozing from a bacterium native to Easter Island Rapa Nui. Thanks to its broad effects on the immune system Rapamycin is already used in transplant medicine as an immune suppressant, and a version is sold by Novartis as the anticancer prescription Afinitor.

What’s even more interesting about Rapamycin though is its reputation as the most consistent way to postpone death – at least in laboratory species – and it lengthens the lives of flies, worms, and rodents as well. For example, feed the compound to mice – mice get all the good drugs – and on average they live 25 percent longer.


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“It doesn’t make them immortal, but it’s pretty good,” says David Harrison of the Jackson Laboratory, who participates in the Intervention Testing Program, an effort of the National Institute on Aging in which drugs with longevity promise are independently tested in mice over a period of years.

“It’s the most exciting intervention that we have,” he said, “it also works at any age, and that makes it interesting.”

While there is a current study underway in Seattle to see if Rapamycin extends the lifespan of dogs, see the video below, so far there haven’t been any formal studies on whether or not it can lengthen people’s life spans.



There have been many reasons companies haven’t been keen to pursue potential anti-aging treatments. Scientifically, longevity pills remain an out there idea, the domain of cranks and quacks, and clinically it’s difficult to prove a drug extends life as it would take too long. Then, regulations wise, there’s no clear path forward, as aging hasn’t generally been recognised as a disease you can treat – although here too there are an increasing number of people who advocate it’s a disease that, like any other disease, can be cured if we simply know how.

It’s tough trying to create an anti-aging pill but recently venture capitalists, including Google, who used to run from such ideas have begun investing billions of dollars in the field.


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Brian Kennedy, who researches aging at the Buck Institute, says the Novartis drug is “groundbreaking” because of its impact on the effects of age.

“No one has the stomach to do longevity studies,” he said in an interview last year, “or you can do what Novartis did, which is to choose a property of aging and see if you can slow it down.”

Novartis says it will soon be reporting more results from its studies in the elderly but the company also said that it had decided that that specific area of research no longer fitted with its priorities.

“We will stop developing [Rapamycin] for age related disorders,” says Jeffrey Lockwood, a Novartis spokesperson, “it’s outside of our current strategy.”

Instead, Novartis decided to sell the program to PureTech, who are investing $15 million in the new program, in exchange for an ownership stake in the new company resTORbio. The startup’s CEO, Chen Schor, wouldn’t say exactly what direction it planned to take, other than that the company would build on Novartis’s data.

“We are talking a very pragmatic approach and will prioritize indications where we hope the data could get us approval using these compounds if you can change the decline in function of the immune system,” says Schor.


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In the short term the startup will try to use the Novartis drugs to reverse what it calls “immunosenescence,” or detrimental changes to the immune system that occur with age and over time it will increase the scope of the project. In part, that might include trying to restore certain types of T cells, which become exhausted and don’t remain vigilant against cancer and infections.

“They get old and grumpy but hang around and secrete pro-inflammatory cytokines, and that have health and aging consequences,” says Joseph Bolen, chief scientific officer of PureTech.

Rapamycin acts on what is called the mTOR complex, a set of genes that play a basic role in regulating the metabolism of cells. When mTOR is blocked, it can push cells into a life-extending survival mode.

“This happens to be one mechanism that is actionable with a drug and not, say, calorie restriction,” says Bolen, “I think this is a practical way to go about the modulation. What the biology tells you is that what was observed in many other species looks as though it is going to hold in humans.”

About author

Matthew Griffin

Matthew Griffin, described as “The Adviser behind the Advisers” and a “Young Kurzweil,” is the founder and CEO of the World Futures Forum and the 311 Institute, a global Futures and Deep Futures consultancy working between the dates of 2020 to 2070, and is an award winning futurist, and author of “Codex of the Future” series. Regularly featured in the global media, including AP, BBC, Bloomberg, CNBC, Discovery, RT, Viacom, and WIRED, Matthew’s ability to identify, track, and explain the impacts of hundreds of revolutionary emerging technologies on global culture, industry and society, is unparalleled. Recognised for the past six years as one of the world’s foremost futurists, innovation and strategy experts Matthew is an international speaker who helps governments, investors, multi-nationals and regulators around the world envision, build and lead an inclusive, sustainable future. A rare talent Matthew’s recent work includes mentoring Lunar XPrize teams, re-envisioning global education and training with the G20, and helping the world’s largest organisations envision and ideate the future of their products and services, industries, and countries. Matthew's clients include three Prime Ministers and several governments, including the G7, Accenture, Aon, Bain & Co, BCG, Credit Suisse, Dell EMC, Dentons, Deloitte, E&Y, GEMS, Huawei, JPMorgan Chase, KPMG, Lego, McKinsey, PWC, Qualcomm, SAP, Samsung, Sopra Steria, T-Mobile, and many more.

  • Charles D Hatchell#1

    9th April 2017

    Much appreciate the coverage. D.

  • javascript obfuscator#4

    16th May 2017

    It’s tough trying to create an anti-aging pill but recently venture capitalists, including Google, who used to run from such ideas have begun investing billions of dollars in the field.

  • Allan Sillipant#6

    3rd July 2017

    Matthew, I’m an U.S. Veteran Med care activist. Mr. Trump claims he wants to help the Vets, If he truely does, & in light of his own advanced age, he should be interested in prolonging “Late Middle Age” good health…healthspan. There are about 5 million active patents within the VA medical program. These men & women are deserving as hell, & millions of them are gutsy. Why not a “HEALTH CORPS” Like Kennedy did with his “Peace Corps” concept. We can save millions of vets lives, who will needlessly die from the overly outdated treatment guidelines. Frankly, their research efforts are minimal. They put people on Metformin for T2 diabetes, but cancel it immediately if someone is able to get their A1c values under control. Mindless, cheapness driven policies! There are almost a dozen things like Pterostilbene, Resveratrol, quercetin, tocotrienols, NR the precursor to NAD+(Niagen) that compliment Metformin, & Rapamycin as prescription anti-aging agents. All these things could be tested by VA patients in a life/healthspan prolongation program.

    • Matthew Griffin#7

      22nd July 2017

      Hi Allan, thanks for your comment and why not create a Health Corps. Lake Nona in Orlando, Florida is creating the silicon valley of healthcare so maybe they would be a good place to start and propose the idea, I know Blue Cross runs an accelerator program down there so they could be a good first point of contact


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