Ahead of next month’s key SenoTherapeutics Summit, we talk to Dr Marco Quarta about why this frontier science field is accelerating and why the summit is a must-attend event.
Next month, scientists and stakeholders will converge at the prestigious Buck Institute for a summit exploring cellular senescence and therapeutic innovations. Organized by the Phaedon Institute, a non-profit focused on longevity, the SenoTherapeutics Summit aims to foster collaboration and scientific advancements in the emerging field of cellular senescence and therapeutics.
Longevity.Technology: By focusing on a crucial aspect of aging – cellular senescence – the senotherapeutics field hopes accelerate development of novel treatments that can slow down or reverse age-related degeneration. New avenues for improving human health and extending lifespan need research and funding – and neither of these things happen without discussion, synergy, co-operation and collaboration. The Summit plans to foster these and thus support and grow this exciting area of longevity. To find out more about what we can expect from the Summit and why it is set to be one of this year’s key longevity events, we sat down with Dr Marco Quarta, Phaedon co-founder and president and also one of the Summit’s Chairs.
Two heads are better than one, and when it comes to senotherapeutics, it would seem more heads are even better. The idea that co-operation is key to success is embedded in the Summit’s goals right from the outset. Dr Marco Quarta, who along with Dr Marco Demaria, is chairing next month’s event explains that the intention behind the summit is to create a forum of discussion and a space for synergies between the KOLs and stakeholders who are working to advance the science of cellular senescence and to develop senotherapeutics.
“We think it is important to bring clarity to the field’s direction, to the lessons learned, to what the opportunities are, to how we can overcome the challenges and to what are the lower hanging fruits to engage with,” explains Quarta, adding that the summit will bring together leaders from academia, clinics, early stage companies, global Pharma companies, investors and Venture Capitals, all to help each other.
“The way I see it, is that there are no competitors in this field but we are all collaborators, aligned around the mission of developing novel therapies,” he says. “Therapies aimed to treat unmet medical needs by targeting the biology of cellular senescence as a therapeutic opportunity. The body of preclinical evidence built over the years is strong, we now want to facilitate the translation into the clinics to enable successful development of new types of medicines targeting this biology, involved in diseases and in the biological aging process.”
The Summit isn’t starting small in any way; from its location at The Buck Institute to its remit (which is everything, being the past, present and future of the science of and therapeutics for cellular senescence) it really is setting out its stall as the place to be for anyone even remotely interested in senescence or longevity.
To what extent does reflection on what went before determine direction going forward? Quarta explains that appreciation of the scientific building blocks of senescence research makes for robust scientific exploration in the future.
“The field of cellular senescence biology is relatively young, so we don’t really need to go far back in time. However, the progress and expansion of this field saw a rapid growth over the recent years, and this comes with the risk of losing track of what is relevant and what should be left behind,” he says, explaining that this is why it is so important to keep track of where things are heading and make sure those working in the field are all aligned with what is relevant and what is already history.
“Moreover, there are often misconceptions in the popular culture about senescent cells and senotherapeutics, often based on outdated early findings,” he adds. “Creating tighter connections among the people driving the science and the industry is critical so we can assess together the best directions to move forward, as a community.”
For Quarta and many of his colleagues, the Seno-Therapeutics Summit is happening at a critical time for the space. “This is a very important stage for senotherapeutics – several clinical trials are ongoing and with others entering the clinics soon, it is imperative that we come together to coordinate how to best advance the field.”
Quarta says senotherapeutics is ‘frontier science’, and this means there are still many gray areas to uncover and questions to clarify. “For example, understanding relevant biomarkers and clinical endpoints to de-risk the clinical development behind targeting the biology of cellular senescence-associated chronic diseases of aging is becoming a paramount task; the risks need to minimized.”
Quarta is clear that “naive comments” about early clinical trials that have disappointing results should not used as a metric to assess the entire promise of the field, and cites the early days of oncology when the majority of the clinical trials were unsuccessful.
“Too many aspects had still to be elucidated, such as dosing regime, which druggable targets translate from preclinical into clinical indications, which therapeutic modality to use on which cancer type, etc. But this is how we learned – tough trials and errors and many clinical trials. After decades, the field of oncology is still actively investigating those questions, and among many failed attempts, many successful therapies and new standards of care emerged, driving the entire field of oncology.”
For Quarta, senotherapeutics are really not that different – senescent cells are heterogeneous, there are many targets involved, and they are associated with different diseases and conditions.
“In the coming decades, we will add more approaches targeting cellular senescence biology to the medicine arsenal. We have to be aware and make clear that SenoTherapeutics will be diversified – it is not going to be a one-pill-cure-for-everything. Rather, this is going to be a new arsenal of medicines targeting disease progression at a root cause, with the potential to be not just reactive but also preventive.”
Bringing together science and clinic and industry is not just important for accelerating the field; for Quarta, it is vital in order to translate scientific findings into medicine that can bring novel medicine to people.
“Sometimes these are separate fields that work in parallel but don’t really merge sufficiently to maximize progress and success – the Summit aims to bridge that gap by working and discussing together during the two days of the event,” he explains. “By reducing this distance and enabling an open discussion and fostering collaboration and synergies between these worlds sooner, we hope to accelerate the field positively. Our goal is to support successful stories, delivering novel SenoTherapeutics to medicine with a paradigm shift of how we treat chronic diseases of aging.
Quarta says that effective and safe senotherapeutics will represent an important win for the longevity medicine field.
“Aging is a complex phenomenon, a multifaceted biology. We all age biologically at different rates and in different ways, and so we need multiple modalities and strategies to build, over time, a true comprehensive longevity medicine.”
But, he acknowledges that it will take time. The Phaedon Institute has set itself the task of focusing on each area of development that falls under this longevity medicine general definition, kicking off with senotherapeutics, which is the focus of the first event of the Phaedon Institute.
“We will continue promoting future events focused on other areas, such as epigenetic reprogramming, mitochondrial therapies, etc, that similarly deserve a focused forum to create opportunities of growth and synergies to help succeed,” he adds.
The whole program of the Summit has been designed to guide the attendees to a proactive journey of this field, with everyone contributing, whether as a speaker or a session participant. The event kicks off with a basic biology session featuring Summit Co-chair Professor Marco DeMaria from University of Groningen, Professor Peter Adams from Sanford Burnham Prebys, Professor Paul Robbins from University of Minnesota and Professor Myriam Gorospe from NIH.
The Summit will then transition to the preclinical session, discussing key questions around translational tools to predict clinical development, and hear about the work being undertaken at several key labs around the world, including Professor Andrea Alimonti from ETH Zurich, Professor Vassilis Gorgoulis from University of Athens and Dr Antonio Filareto from Boehringer Ingelheim. Speakers reflecting on the transition to clinical stage, and discussing lessons learned and advancements being made include with leading experimental clinicians Professors James Kirkland, Sundeep Khosla and LaTonya Hickson from the Mayo Clinic and Dr Mike Sapieha from Unity Biotechnology. Finally, the focus will shift to therapeutic development with founders and executives from the leading companies working to bring senotherapeutics to patients, including Rubedo Life Sciences, Deciduous Therapeutics, Oisin Biotechnologies, Rejuveron Senotherapeutics, Dorian Therapeutics, Ichor Life Sciences and Cleara.
The Summit also features a number of focused round tables, including a discussion with Global Pharma executives on partnering and collaborations and on how to create synergies to advance innovations. Panelists include Novartis CSO Simone Fantaccini, VP of Eli Lilly Benjamin Yaden and Senior Manager of Ono Pharmaceutical Yasuaki Hashimoto.
A biomarkers round table will be held collaboration with the Biomarkers of Aging Consortium, and a round table exploring investment strategies will hear from Venture Capitals, including Alex Morgan from Khosla Ventures, William Greene from Hevolution Foundation, Ronjon Nag from R42 and Max Unfried from VitaDAO.
The Summit aims to publish its key findings and recommendations in partnership with npj Aging, which is also offering an award for the best poster.