The need to educate in longevity

Lots to learn about longevity at ARDD 2021: from pharma and startups to physicians and high schoolers.

This week, we’ll be bringing you a wealth of content from the Aging Research and Drug Discovery Meeting at the University of Copenhagen. Now in its eighth year, the event started in Basel in 2014 and has now grown into the largest aging focused pharmaceutical industry conference in the world.

Longevity.Technology: With the main conference sessions kicking off tomorrow, today sees the introduction of a brand new educational element: the Longevity Medicine Workshop. This educational session evokes the connective purpose of the entire conference, and we caught up with Insilico Medicine boss Dr Alex Zhavoronkov, also one of ARDD’s organising team, to find out more.

With aging science and technology evolving ever more quickly, there is a huge amount of knowledge and understanding that also needs to be shared beyond the longevity community. Billed as an intro to Deep Longevity’s Longevity Medicine for Physicians Course, the goal of today’s new workshop is to ensure that healthcare providers are able to learn more about the current status and future of the longevity field.

Deep Longevity continues to build their life-extension ecosystem with a new structured course on Longevity medicine.
“The industry can move cannot move faster than physicians, who are the ultimate pacemakers for the industry,” says Zhavoronkov. “If you discover wonderful targets and wonderful molecules, you still need to put them into the clinic. And to do that you need physician buy-in, so this workshop is geared towards the clinicians.

“There is now a new emerging profession, a longevity physician, who not only works with patients, but also helps conduct clinical studies because somebody needs to put the drugs in the clinic, somebody needs to do the therapies. So now we see more and more physicians who are thinking more in the context of how to conduct a clinical trial for a longevity therapeutic.”

Teens plan longevity careers

Scorning the idea that “longevity is just for old people”, ARDD has also introduced a new programme for high school students called Inspire Longevity for the first time this year. One of this year’s student ambassadors is Nina Kehra, who we profiled last year. The programme puts young people together with science and business leaders from across the field to give them a head start on their career in longevity.

“We were quite surprised to see that many teenagers who are currently planning their careers, are interested in going into aging research,” says Zhavoronkov. “We want to encourage more young people to start formulating their careers in longevity, and the conference provides an open platform for them to learn. We have arranged interviews with key opinion leaders in the industry so they can formulate where to go. We are trying to create an ecosystem and they are inspiring other students to come into this field.”

Educating pharma on longevity

And the theme of education continues throughout this year’s conference, which has its roots in bridging the gap between the longevity field and major pharmaceutical companies.
“From the very beginning, we have tried to make this conference very friendly towards the pharmaceutical industry, which needs to buy into this field,” says Zhavoronkov. “There has been a lot of activity in early stage drug discovery in the pharmaceutical industry, specifically on aging and age-associated biology that can be purposed towards multiple diseases.”

Zhavaronkov points out that “at least four” of the largest pharmaceutical companies have prioritised aging research in their early stage R&D.

“They are talking about novel targets and deciphering the disease biology,” he adds. “So at this conference, you see significant participation from startups that are also focusing on biotechnology, that are also deciphering those new types of aging biology, and are trying to go after novel targets, or repurpose old therapeutics towards new indications, or both.”

In ARDD’s first year in Basel, the chairman of Novartis presented, as well as Joan Mannick, who presented her first results having just started resTORbio. Mannick is back this year, in her new capacity as head of R&D at Life Biosciences, and Zhavoronkov says that she has valuable experience to share with other companies around how to increase the probability of success.

“ARDD is a platform for pharmaceutical companies to come and learn from the field to tap into this knowledge base, and ensure that their early stage pipelines and early stage research is fuelled by the data that they get from the conference.”

Images courtesy of Christoffer Regild / and ARDD