Healthspan, Not Lifespan Should Be the Focus of Anti-Aging Research, Says Longeveron

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As the world population gets older, healthcare professionals and scientists alike are increasingly stating that living longer is not enough. Medicine also needs to help people live well.  The emerging field of healthspan therapies is arguably full of exciting research and developments. One company in the healthspan research field is Longeveron Inc. LGVN, who recently reported some interesting clinical trial data. The clinical-stage biotech is developing a living cell-based therapy,  which is being evaluated for its potential to treat, reverse or prevent a variety of age-related chronic diseases or conditions. 

Why Some Scientists Are Saying Healthspan Matters More Than Lifespan

In 2020, the Census Bureau reported that the average life expectancy in the U.S. is 79.7 years and is projected to reach 85.6 by 2060. But aging comes with increased health risks, and the health consequences of poor lifestyle choices or accidents can pile up. 

People might live into their 80s or 90s, but if they’re suffering from severe dementia or are immobilized from a permanent injury, those extra years may end up being painful and difficult ones.

That’s why some researchers are looking at human healthspan rather than lifespan. First appearing in the late ‘80s, the term refers to the number of years a person spends in good health, free from chronic diseases or pain. 

While the definition of good health is subjective, since some people are born with varying degrees of disability, the basic idea is that researchers can shift their focus from simply tacking on extra years to a person’s life expectancy and start focusing on helping people enjoy more years in relatively good health.

Efforts to quantify healthspan are ongoing, but often cited as one of the best measures developed so far is HALE or healthy life expectancy. Developed by the World Health Organization, HALE compiles statistics on the age of onset for serious age-related diseases like dementia, stroke, or cancer into an overall average representing the number of years before a serious illness of any kind sets in.

As of 2019, the HALE for the United States was 66. With the life expectancy at 79.7, that means the average American may spend about 13.7 years in poor health. 

Pushing Research Toward Prevention and Repair?

While developing better treatments for diseases is important, they have often been developed with the sole purpose of killing the disease.

Healthspan-focused research is also concerned with delaying the onset of disease in the first place and, for those who are already ill, with repairing the damage done to the body so that they can bounce back as strong and healthy as they were before they got sick.

For example, Unity Biotechnology Inc. UBX has reported working on treatments that clear out senescent cells (older cells that have stopped multiplying) to minimize inflammation and damage. The hope is that this process would delay the onset of senescence-based diseases like age-related macular degeneration and neurodegenerative disorders.

Meanwhile, Altos Labs — a startup launched this year with funding from former CEO of Amazon.com Inc. AMZN, Jeff Bezos — has reported investing in the potential of cellular reprogramming to reverse cell degradation by essentially programming the cell to become younger instead of older.

Longeveron Looks To Target Aging Frailty with Cell Therapy

While some companies are still in preclinical stages and have a way to go before their treatments are considered safe enough to test in human subjects, Longeveron is an example of a company that states it is deep into clinical trials for its cell therapy, which the Company hopes could help treat or prevent age-related diseases as well as help older adults generally improve their overall health. 

Among the clinical trials the biotech has either underway or conducted are studies on aging frailty, the general physiological decline in function that comes with age and makes certain older people more vulnerable to disease, injury and poor clinical outcomes, including death, compared to non-frail individuals 

Using its leading drug candidate, Lomecel-B, Longeveron reports that it is targeting several of the underlying causes of aging frailty, including inflammation and vascular dysfunction. Using medicinal signaling cells (MSCs), Lomecel-B is being tested for its antiinflammatory and immunomodulatory properties, and the potential to stimulate the body’s natural tissue and organ repair process.  

A Phase 2b study completed last year showed that a single intravenous infusion of Lomecel B improved physical function in older adults, increasing their walking distance in a six-minute walk test by at least 40 meters (placebo-adjusted difference at 6 months post-infusion for highest Lomecel-B dose group). 

 The company is now planning to initiate a Phase 2 trial in Japan, a “super-aged society”, in the first half of 2022 that will measure the treatment’s effects on walking speed, grip strength, and other measures of physical function while also tracking inflammation levels.

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