‘Pet longevity is a spark about to turn into a wildfire’

Arterra CEO on why 2024 will be the catalyst year for pet longevity and why improving stewardship of man’s best friends starts with improving their healthspan.

Back in December, we were given the (bacon-flavored) scoop on Arterra, a veterinarian-formulated supplement for dogs. Containing no fewer than 63 ingredients, Arterra is focused on improving and extending a dog’s healthspan, bringing about a happier, higher quality of life by supporting the underlying structural health and function of all key systems involved in degenerative aging.

Longevity.Technology: The pet longevity space has been gaining traction and headlines in equal measure as people start to take their companions’ healthspan as seriously as their own. Arterra is spearheading an approach that focuses on prevention and healthspan and puts quality of life at the top of its agenda. We collared (sorry) Founder and CEO Jonathan Willbanks to find out more.

Research into animal longevity works on two levels as it both augments the data that can be used to design and refine human therapies, but it can also be used to improve the healthspan and lifespan of pets and working animals.

Willbanks says there is a lot of “switching on” to the concept of looking at larger mammals in longevity research, and references Dr Steve Austad’s thoughts on the subject.

“As well as bridging that gap between rodent data and human data, the research benefits the animals as much as it benefits humans because then we have data that we can use for their benefit as well as our benefit.”

When it comes to dogs, we rather take them for granted because of their ubiquity in our society. But Willbanks sees dogs as a designer species, created by humans to serve our  functional and working needs and increasingly our emotional needs. 

“Humans have selectively bred dogs over tens of  thousands of years for our benefit not theirs. The average Golden Retriever now has a lifespan of 10 to 11 years, but if you look back at veterinary data from the 1920s to the 1940s, it was not uncommon for Golden Retrievers to live to 17. We have kind of screwed the pooch with our stewardship of this species, but finally have a toolkit to help to start to shift that curve back in favor of longevity, and doing that is our responsibility as dogs’ creator species and their stewards.”

Arterra began when Willbanks adopted an emaciated, stray four-year-old Golden Retriever Mix in his final year of college. Having nursed Arturo back to health, Willbanks wanted to ensure he enjoyed optimum healthspan, but was disappointed by the lack of longevity-focused canine supplements available. So he made his own from human-grade products, continually tweaking and upgrading it as Arturo aged. Arturo lived to 16½ in nearly perfect health – the human equivalent of 117 years for his breed.

Now a commercial version of Arturo’s supplement regimen is on the market in an adult and senior formula, refined and guided by a team of board-certified veterinarians.

‘Pet longevity is a spark about to turn into a wildfire’
Jonathan Willbanks is Founder and CEO of Arterra

“The adult formula is preventative in nature,” Willbanks explains. “Our goal is to extend the healthspan runway as far as possible in your dog to delay the onset of degenerative aging as long as possible. Our senior formula is built on the same design philosophy; it takes all the ingredients in our adult formula and, where appropriate, dials up the volume. We’ve also added a second class of ingredients that are designed to mitigate some of the symptoms of degenerative aging, so pain management, cognitive decline, depression, &c. We are attempting to turn back the clock on both a functional cellular level and also on a symptomatic level.”

“The primary variable we’re optimizing for is increased healthspan – extended lifespan is really just a side effect.”

Ensuring the hallmarks of aging are tackled is as important in a canine supplement as a human one, and for Willbanks, it’s a question of hardware support and software support. 

“Our hardware support is designed to support the underlying structure of all the key systems in the body – modulating inflammation, modulating pain and providing building blocks. Our software support runs in parallel, and we are mindful that the science here is nuanced, with new research coming out all the time but we are focused on the hallmarks and modulating the epigenome. 

Willbanks explains that Arterra’s aim is that every ingredient in its formula pulls a double shift, which he illustrates with berberine. “Berberine is a great AMPK activator, performing comparably to metformin; but it also helps with glucose control, which we know is almost universally beneficial in delaying degeneration of all of the systems involved in aging.”

Willbanks adds that anecdotally, Arterra has seen a benefit in weight management from its product, and he thinks berberine is probably the “number one thing” driving that.

He is also mindful of the cost involved. “We avoided certain very sexy and very trendy ingredients that are incredibly expensive but have a very narrow mechanism of action because I’m skeptical that they will drive the long-term holistic outcomes that we want,” he explains. “So we have looked for that double duty, and ensured we are supporting cellular senescence and autophagy, with a couple different senolytic ingredients.”

Supporting mitochondrial health was key for Willbanks. “I was tuned into the benefits of supplementing for mitochondrial health in both myself and my dog, so that juice really is worth the squeeze. So we’ve included CoQ10 and PQ, which I think is the coolest and most under-appreciated ingredient in the natural pharmacopeia, as it not only protects the mitochondria inside the cell from really toxic molecules, but is also very effective against peroxynitrite radicals.”

There’s a lot of interest in the microbiome and its role in longevity, but when it comes to gut health in dogs, Willbanks says a back to basics approach is what’s needed.

“While we do include some prebiotics and probiotics in our senior formula, we also focus on gut integrity,” Willbanks explains. “It’s less sexy than the microbiome, but leaky gut – degraded integrity of the mucosal and gut linings in the stomach and the intestines – is often down to dogs’ diets. Kibble and processed food are not the best for gut health. We see much more bang for our buck by focusing on repairing the integrity of the gut lining with ingredients including L glutamine and acetyl glucosamine. We’ve hedged with a three-pronged approach to overall gut health: probiotics, prebiotics and a focus on the integrity of the gut lining.”

Of course, for a supplement to do its job effectively, it has to overcome the bioavailability obstacle. Willbanks says the “bioavailability question is manifold,” as Arterra has had to consider both the macro form of delivery and the form of the individual ingredients. 

“Not all supplements and not all forms are created equal,” he says. “We’ve erred toward high bioavailability, and we’ve also done a check against competing absorption to make sure ingredients aren’t canceling each other out.”

Exciting times are ahead. Arterra has a clinical study underway; currently enrolling, the study is expected to complete later this year, and while Willbanks is following Matt Kaeberlein’s Dog Aging study with interest, Arterra is sticking with plowing the supplements furrow.

“Rapamycin will always be a prescription drug in the United States which means a different regulatory framework. Being a supplement gives us more freedom to formulate for efficacy but what Matt is doing is fascinating.”

Willbanks has praise, too, for Loyal. “Loyal is doing the very hard walking and I have so much respect for that team. To design an FDA study to treat aging as a disease – that is going to have broad historical implications, and that was the shot heard around the world.”

Built on these successes, Willbanks says that 2024 will be a catalyst year for pet longevity.

“It’s going mainstream,” he explains. “You have one pharmaceutical company [Loyal] and two supplement brands [Arterra and Leap Years] all with three different approaches, but who are all ideological about raising the bar and giving dog owners for the first time a focused set of tools for pet longevity.

“These three are on the crest of the wave – so many people who will do anything within reason and within their budget to improve their dog’s healthspan. And I think as people discover they can do something about their pet’s longevity, that will be the kind of spark that we hope is going to turn into a wildfire in our space.”

Photographs courtesy of Arterra