The Secrets of Anti-Aging, Gleaned From Your Dog | Mint

The Secrets of Anti-Aging, Gleaned From Your Dog

PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY ELENA SCOTTI/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, ISTOCK
PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY ELENA SCOTTI/THE WALL STREET JOURNAL, ISTOCK

Summary

Scientists are studying dogs to learn more about human longevity.

In the quest to help people live longer, scientists and companies are turning to dogs.

Humans have greater genetic similarities to dogs than other common subjects of aging research, like mice. Our species get many of the same age-related diseases, including cancer and osteoarthritis. And dogs tend to live alongside us, sharing our exposures.

It also helps that they age faster than we do, giving a quicker timeline to study longevity.

Behind the growing enthusiasm is a mix of scientists and entrepreneurs—building on the surging interest from people aiming to live longer. These groups say insights into dog longevity could provide lessons and perhaps eventually treatments that could help people, too.

Among some notable findings, scientists at the Dog Aging Project, a research effort based at the University of Washington and Texas A&M, found that physical activity was associated with better markers of cognitive aging in dogs. Another found social companionship, such as living with other dogs, was associated with better health.

Business developments aren’t far behind. On Tuesday, a biotech startup that’s hoping to have the first FDA-approved treatment to extend healthy lifespan in dogs, took a step toward that goal. In a letter viewed by The Wall Street Journal, the Food and Drug Administration affirmed that its drug had demonstrated “reasonable expectation of effectiveness."

The company, called Loyal, still has to complete several more steps before it can market the drug, and it’s only aimed at canines.

“It’s ideal to study aging in dogs, and then the leap to be able to use that to transfer into human application really is the next step," says Louise Grubb, chief executive of veterinary drug company TriviumVet, which is working toward gaining FDA approval of a separate drug targeting age-related diseases in pet cats and dogs.

What the science says about dogs and humans

No animal model is a perfect stand-in for humans. But dog research may offer us some clues that other animal models cannot.

Researchers at the Dog Aging Project are currently enrolling canine participants in a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial to study the effects of rapamycin, a drug originally approved to prevent organ rejection in human transplant patients. Some people use it off-label as part of a longevity regimen.

If any treatment is shown to extend healthy lifespan in dogs, we can have more confidence that it will have a similar effect in people, says the project’s co-director Matt Kaeberlein, a molecular biologist and longevity scientist. The complexity of our environments could affect how drugs or behavioral changes have been shown to work in, for example, mice in controlled lab settings, he says.

From breed to breed, dogs are very genetically diverse. Some breeds are more likely to develop certain diseases than others, says Daniel Promislow, principal investigator of the Dog Aging Project and professor at the University of Washington. This can help scientists identify subjects for research on the genes or environmental factors that might contribute to those diseases.

There are limitations, too.

Differences between our species, including diets and the prevalence of sterilization in dogs, could affect the way we age and how we measure it. And most research in pet dogs is designed to give us hints, not provide cause and effect, says Dr. Manuel Moro, a scientist at the National Institute on Aging who works on developing animal models.

Growing interest in dogs

Between 2019 and 2021, global financing for pet longevity firms more than quadrupled, according to an analysis from longevity research and media company Longevity. Technology. Driving the interest, in part, is the notion that getting an aging drug on the market for animals is likely to be cheaper and faster than doing so for people.

TriviumVet, the veterinary drug company, is working toward FDA approval of the formulation of rapamycin being studied by the Dog Aging Project. The company is studying the drug’s effects on age-related illnesses, like heart disease, in pet cats and dogs, but the work has also caught the eye of some researchers studying aging in humans, says Grubb.

Garri Zmudze, a founding partner at longevity and biotech-focused venture firm LongeVC, has raised $20 million for a separate early-stage fund that will invest in the pet space, including longevity and therapeutics.

“It will take a lot of time to translate [animal data] on humans but I believe that we can start early," says Zmudze.

Celine Halioua, CEO of dog biotech startup Loyal, and Della, her 85-pound senior Rottweiler mix. PHOTO: LOYAL
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Celine Halioua, CEO of dog biotech startup Loyal, and Della, her 85-pound senior Rottweiler mix. PHOTO: LOYAL

Celine Halioua, chief executive of Loyal, the biotech startup working toward conditional approval of its lifespan drug, says there is a larger aim in addition to helping dogs live healthier for longer. The company has set a possible precedent for other drugs to be approved for lifespan extension, potentially opening a door for other animal—or human—drug companies to follow.

“I think we can both take the opportunity to build better medicines for our dogs and also to better understand these really complex diseases," says Halioua, whose own 85-pound Rottweiler mix, Della, is nearing the end of her projected lifespan.

The firm’s drug is an injectable that is designed to reduce levels of IGF-1, a hormone that drives cell growth, in large dogs. High blood levels of IGF-1 have been associated with shorter lifespans in some animal and human studies.

The company’s research has indicated that the drug can reduce those hormone levels, but it would still need a large clinical trial demonstrating it can extend dog lifespans in order to achieve full FDA approval. It also needs the agency’s signoff on the drug’s safety and proper manufacturing before getting conditional approval and beginning to sell it, which Loyal hopes to do in 2026.

Still, the FDA nod this week is a promising next step for the field, dog aging researchers say, and will likely drive more interest from biotech and pharmaceutical companies.

“If it is proven that the drug is effective in dogs then there is a higher chance that it will work in the case of humans, too," says Eniko Kubinyi, a biologist studying dog behavior and cognition with the Budapest-based Family Dog Project.

Write to Alex Janin at alex.janin@wsj.com

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