Efforts are being made to test drugs to reverse the accelerated aging of the oil kingdom’s population. The first drug might be metformin, which is used to treat diabetes.
One billion dollars a year is being spent on slowing aging research in Saudi Arabia
A person with more money than he knows what to do with eventually seeks to cure aging. It was tried by Google founder Larry Page. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos has already tested it. It has been tried by two billionaires in the tech industry: Larry Ellison and Peter Thiel.
Saudi Arabia is willing to try it too, since it has about as much money as all of them combined.
In order to support basic research on the biology of aging and the discovery of ways to extend the number of years people can live in healthy health, a concept known as “health span,” the Saudi royal family has established the Hevolution Foundation as a not-for-profit organization. The Foundation plans to spend up to $1 billion a year on that research.
If the Saudis spend the money, they will become the largest single sponsor of researchers studying how drugs can slow down aging.
There hasn’t yet been an official announcement, but the scope of the foundation’s efforts has been discussed at scientific meetings, and aging researchers are hopeful that it will support large human studies of anti-aging drugs.
He was recruited as CEO of PespsiCo in 2020, after serving as chief scientist at Mayo Clinic and as chief scientist at PespsiCo. An interview with Khan revealed that the organization’s primary goal is to prolong healthy life spans. The medical problem is the biggest on this planet.”
Researchers believe that if you can slow the body’s aging process, you can delay the onset of disease and extend the healthy years you can enjoy as you age. In addition to giving grants for basic scientific research on aging, Khan says, he plans to support drug studies that will include trials of “treatments that are patent-expired or never made commercially available.”
This biology needs to be translated into clinical research in humans. In the end, people won’t benefit from these changes until something actually benefits them,” Khan says.
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This fund can invest in biotech companies, and Khan says it is authorized to spend up to $1 billion annually indefinitely. It spends $325 million annually on basic research on the biology of aging at the US National Institute on Aging.
Despite not announcing which projects Evolution will support, people familiar with the group claim it considered funding a $100 million X Prize for age-reversal technology and has reached a preliminary agreement to test the diabetes drug metformin on a number of elderly people.
The TAME trial (for “Targeting Aging with Metformin”) was touted as the first major human trial to test any drug to postpone aging, but it has languished over the years due to lack of funding.
Hevolution has agreed to fund one-third of the cost of the TAME trial, according to Nir Barzilai, a researcher at the Albert Einstein School of Medicine.
As a result of that agreement, the “geroscience hypothesis” might be endorsed. This is the still unproven belief that some drugs can delay the onset of cancer and Alzheimer’s by altering basic aging processes inside cells.
Former US National Institutes of Health chief scientist Felipe Sierra popularized the term “geroscience,” which was coined by him. Sierra also serves as chief scientific officer for Hevolution. Despite his refusal to comment by email, Sierra has previously called geroscience the observation that aging is by far and away the greatest risk factor for all chronic diseases.
There may be a part of the Saudi government’s motivation for making these decisions. This is because of its belief that diseases of aging pose a specific threat to the future of the country. According to materials prepared by Hevolution and seen by MIT Technology Review, people living in Gulf states “age faster biologically than chronologically.”
Affluence-related diseases plague the country due to a rich diet and inactivity. It is experiencing an increase in obesity and diabetes rates despite its relatively young population. It was noted in a 2019 study published in the Saudi Medical Journal that Saudi public health authorities deemed prevention and control programs “urgent.”
As a result of the killing of a Washington Post journalist in October 2018 by a hit squad allegedly acting on orders from the prince, the timing of the royal decree indicates the project may be aimed at reestablishing Saudi Arabia and bin Salman’s reputation. According to Joe Biden, who was running for president at the time, the death of Jamal Khashoggi caused Saudi Arabia to be labeled a “pariah” state with “minimal social redeeming value.”
Khan’s team is establishing a US nonprofit arm to allow Hevolution’s money to be offered through that arm, due to the actions of the Saudi autocrat.
Hevolution has explored being a sponsor of a $100 million age-reversal prize that will feature scientific teams competing to rejuvenate animals, according to Peter Diamandis, chairman of the X Prize Foundation, which organizes high-profile technical competitions. There has been no progress in those discussions. Other sources of funding had been secured for the X Prize, according to another source familiar with the project.
A nonprofit organization for geroscience researchers, including Barzilai, has spent years trying to raise $55 million for the TAME trial and accepted Saudi money without hesitation.
We discovered there are many institutions in the US that take money from Saudi Arabia, and we can too. Stephanie Lederman, the executive director of the Federation, says that’s the bottom line. Thousands will benefit from this – first the scientists, then the whole world. Many people would be able to live longer and healthier if this were to happen.”
The first-of-its-kind study was permitted by the US Food and Drug Administration eight years ago after Barzilai persuaded the agency. The TAME trial aims to determine whether metformin can delay the onset of a range of age-related diseases, since aging itself cannot be measured nor considered a disease by regulators.
After five or six years, the researchers will see whether the drug reduces heart disease, dementia, and cancer in 3,500 over 65 at 16 US centers.
The old drug metformin has drawn attention because a large study of British medical records showed diabetics were living longer than expected — even longer than healthy people.
Rapamycin, an immune suppressor that has been shown to prolong the life span of laboratory mice and also tested on dogs, has also been cited as a possible general-purpose anti-aging compound. A drug that delays aging in humans hasn’t been proven, though some early experiments haven’t been so successful. An elderly person’s resistance to respiratory infections was not increased by rapamycin in human tests in 2019.
Metformin is not known to work either. According to a study published this year, the drug didn’t protect diabetics against heart problems over the long haul. Although metformin may not delay aging, the clinical trial could pave the way for other geroscience drugs to reach human trials. According to Lederman, if Saudi money is provided, the trial should finally begin. ‘It’s amazing that funding has been so difficult,’ she says.