Is the ‘skinny jab’ a new longevity drug?

Could a new weight loss drug open the door to antiaging therapies?

Preparing for various conference presentations, and not wishing to repeat last year’s deck, I wanted to see what was happening outside of our longevity sector in order to draw parallels with our sector’s progress.

Some of the questions I wanted to address:

Are we at peak longevity hype? Answer: no, not yet, but the work of Bryan Johnson is raising awareness of humans’ ability to wind back biological age. Kim Kardashian’s full body MRI is a precursor to longevity awareness and, in fact, prompted us to launch our longevity clinics survey – there’s a need to know what’s happening.

Will the FDA classify aging as a disease? Answer: still waaaaaay off, if ever, if necessary.

But to frame that question a different way – will a longevity drug need an FDA approval for commercial success? Answer: no, as all longevity drugs will positively affect at least one disease of aging, they will ultimately receive approval. If a drug is based on an aging pathway that demonstrates efficacy in more than one aging disease, then who’s going to complain? After all, it’s more revenue for pharma, more prescription options for clinicians, more patients under management and fewer aging disease consequences for governments.

Longevity.Technology: Yes, system rejuvenation is the panacea for longevity therapeutics – winding the clock back across all cells and, therefore, organs. But what about a drug that addresses multiple diseases of aging, basing its mechanism of aging on a recognised aging pathway, mechanism or aging hallmark? Yep, that’d work.

Semaglutide, sold under the brand names Ozempic, Wegovy and Rybelsus, and referred to in some markets as the ‘skinny jab’, is the weight loss drug recently approved for use in the UK National Health Service for millions of people.

Not thousands, millions!

Used for the treatment of type 2 diabetes, Semaglutide is an anti-obesity medication prescribed for weight loss – but being overweight is not a disease (in the majority of cases). Being old is also not a disease: an interesting parallel.

Based around the hormone GLP-1, Semaglutide can be used for conditions other than weight loss; it has also demonstrated both efficacy in improving heart failure-related symptoms in human studies [1], as well as neuroprotective properties in mouse studies, promoting DNA repair in neurodegenerative diseases [2].

So the skinny drug, heads off diabetes, cardiovascular disease and potentially neurodegenerative disease: a longevity drug?

In the US alone, every year these diseases of aging cost, respectively $363 billion, $470 billion and $361 billion.

The US Food and Drug Administration has already approved the Wegovy (Semaglutide) injection (2.4 mg once weekly) for chronic weight management in adults with obesity or who are overweight with at least one weight-related condition (such as high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, or high cholesterol) [3].

Injected weekly, the drug must be prescribed by a specialist; a similar drug, liraglutide, marketed as Saxenda and made by the same company, is already available, but must be injected daily [4].

So, what does this have to with the longevity industry? Well first up, the longevity revolution will be a slow revolution, success might ‘creep up’ on us – with Semaglutide, perhaps this creep may have already started.

With development cycles being so long in therapeutics, and the grind of bringing a compound through safety and efficacy to market being so arduous, don’t expect a big bang any time soon.

Instead, consider the switch. Change the weight loss theme for an aging theme in these August 2023 headlines from the Financial Times, and you’ll get an idea of how a successful longevity therapeutic will play out once it gains market attention, and peak hype:

Weight-loss drugs: will health systems and insurers pay for ‘skinny jabs’?
Anti-aging drugs: will health systems and insurers pay for ‘longevity jabs’?

Chinese drugmakers develop copycat versions of ‘miracle’ weight-loss drug
Chinese drugmakers develop copycat versions of ‘miracle’ longevity drug

Does big pharma get longevity?

Give me a ‘hell yeah’. Our team works with the investment arms of tier 1 pharmaceutical companies through our separate investment brokerage operation – they’re interested in longevity biotechs working on aging pathways and diseases. Just check out the share price of Novo Nordisk to see the benefits (or even) the potential of future approvals and orders.

“It is not often that you have a 100-year-old company and you’re still growing at 30 per cent,” Lars Fruergaard Jørgensen, Novo’s chief executive, told journalists in a call. The company now expects sales to grow 27-33 per cent this year and operating profit to climb 31-37 per cent [5].

As this drug, and others, make their way to market, and researchers experiment with their efficacy in targeting other aging diseases we will see the longevity biotech thesis played-out in national health systems and clinics around the world.

To revisit the questions I wanted to address:

Are we at peak longevity hype? Not yet, but Semaglutide is an interesting example of how things could go.

Will the FDA classify aging as a disease? As Semaglutide demonstrates, it’s not necessary.