Classifying aging as a disease – it’s all about the ‘how’

The hurdle of classifying aging as a disease, rather than an inevitability, has started to be overcome. Now Alex Zhavoronkov is pushing for us to examine how and when this classification should be implemented in order to overcome the “inherent challenges”.

Nearly two years ago, the World Health Organisation (WHO) released the 11th edition of its International Classification of Diseases, and it contained a short entry that constituted a big deal in the Longevity world: “Code MG2A: Old age.”

Aging is a disease and medicine and healthcare should work to prevent it and to slow it. Although the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not currently regulate any therapies designed to address aging, the landscape is beginning to shift away from illness and fixing individual conditions toward increased healthspan, which leads to lifespan.

A letter from Alex Zhavoronkov, CEO of Insilico Medicine, was published in Science today. Dr Zhavoronkov argues that classifying aging as a disease is not enough to give the pharmaceutical industry the impetus to tackle it.

He points out: “Multiple studies suggest that aging starts in utero and staging of most senescence processes will require massive longitudinal studies in humans and animals.

Furthermore, the first clinical trials targeting aging, such as Targeting Aging with Metformin (TAME), are under discussion, and no aging biomarker consensus or hierarchical structuring has yet emerged.”

“The concept of staging senescence does not fit the current ICD framework. The addition would likely require a new international initiative to develop a comprehensive set of biomarkers and interventions for senescence and longevity, as well as a set of recommendations for reducing the burden of senescence and aging-associated diseases,” he adds.

Dr Zhavoronkov concludes: “To accelerate drug development efforts focused on aging as a disease in the pharmaceutical industry, we need to demonstrate that basic research into whether aging is a biological process disease can yield valuable targets or interventions that demonstrate efficacy in treating or preventing age-related diseases.”

Although the response from Dr Stuart Calimport et al disagrees with Dr Z about the responsiveness of WHO ICD submissions, it agrees that: “Staging systems are usually developed and maintained by international disease-specific medical societies. We would welcome the development of international initiatives to develop a comprehensive set of staging systems, biomarkers, and interventions for senescence and aging-related diseases.”

At Longevity.Technology we think that delving into the how and the when of classifying aging can only be a good thing. Understanding something is the key to being able to mitigate it – both its cause and its effects – and provide confidence to investors.

Image courtesy of Insilico Medicine