Optispan’s Matt Kaeberlein on optimizing healthspan, empowering longevity clinics and exploring biological age.
At the end of last year, we brought you the news of the RAPID clinical trial, which is exploring the potential of rapamycin in periodontal disease. The news was made doubly interesting because of the involvement of a longevity company called Optispan, founded by leading aging researcher Dr Matt Kaeberlein. Optispan’s role in the RAPID trial is to monitor biological aging biomarkers, but the company has a broader focus on helping promote longevity and healthspan through “proactive health measures.”
Longevity.Technology: Optispan is on a mission to recover the so-called “lost decade” – the years that many people spend in poor health – and ultimately help deliver an increase in healthy lifespan, known as the “longevity dividend.” But how does it plan to do that? We caught up with Kaeberlein to find out.
The fundamental challenge that Optispan is targeting is the healthcare system’s focus on reactive disease care – waiting until people are sick, and then trying to treat their symptoms, with minimal proactive efforts to keep people healthy.
“One of the consequences of that is that ‘sick span’ is increasing in almost every developed country in the world,” says Kaeberlein. “There’s no question that many, many more people are spending more years with one or more chronic diseases, and I don’t think there’s any evidence that healthspan is increasing. I absolutely believe that targeting the biology of aging is a critically important part of optimizing healthspan and longevity.”
Targeting the biology of aging
The recent growth in interest in the science of aging, healthspan and longevity has driven an increase in the appearance of longevity clinics that seek to implement the latest advances in the field. But Kaeberlein thinks there is often “little evidence” of clinics using a scientific approach to modify aging biology.
“Unfortunately, longevity has become a popular word, and so what we’re seeing is a lot of executive health, concierge clinics using the term, but not really doing anything different than high touch primary care,” he says. “I think those clinics do some good stuff, but it’s often not sophisticated, or science-based, in terms of the biology of aging.”
With his background in aging research, Kaeberlein believes he brings some “unique perspective” that will allow Optispan to bring more evidence-based science around targeting the biology of aging to the clinical world.
“It’s very difficult to identify the credible voices in the longevity space right now,” he says. “There’s a lot of noise out there, so we’re hopefully going to bring some credibility, at least in terms of what we’re doing, that people can trust. We want people to think that, if an approach has been vetted by Optispan, then that means some rigor and thought has been put into whether it is really viable, valuable, and effective.”
‘We’re not a longevity clinic’
While Optispan itself may look to some like a longevity clinic, Kaeberlein is quick to stress that this is not the primary focus of the company.
“We are not a longevity clinic, we are a healthcare technology company,” he says. “We are about developing the tools that will enable the transition from 20th century medicine to 21st century medicine, or what Peter Attia would call medicine 2.0 to medicine 3.0. Our mission is to create scalable tools, protocols, and technologies, along with an educational component, that will enable this transition and help as many people as possible to maintain health longer.”
Of course, Optispan does have a clinic, but Kaeberlein says its purpose is about helping the company figure out what works and what doesn’t.
“We want to understand what the right diagnostics and biomarkers are,” he says. “Where are the friction points in the current system, and how can we create ways to minimize that friction, so that we can enable providers to bring this sort of care to their patients?”
Years of healthspan ‘on the table’
In terms of the tools and protocols that Optispan is working on, Kaeberlein says there are some “low hanging fruit” that he believes can be scaled up quickly.
“We are doing internal R&D and gathering datasets,” he says. “Our hope and expectation is that as we build these tools and bring them to market, we will also be sharing the information publicly, making them available both to medical providers, and to the general public, as appropriate.”
While Kaeberlein doesn’t reveal specifics, he indicates the first tools to emerge from Optispan probably won’t be from the “cutting edge” of aging science.
“Our initial focus is on fixing obvious problems that, if we can even start to fix them, could have immense impact for lots and lots of people,” he says. “We’re doing a lot of different things, but it’s all guided by this mission of creating scalable tools, technologies, and opportunities to impact healthspan. I’m not suggesting that personalized healthspan optimization is an exact science yet, but I think we know enough that we know what some of the right biomarkers are.”
Kaeberlein says that most people in America, and probably in most developed countries, are leaving “10 to 20 years” of healthspan on the table.
“We really believe there is an opportunity to address that without a whole lot of work – certainly nothing like what Bryan Johnson is doing,” he says. “Making some reasonable modifications to lifestyle, combined with early detection of disease and proactive assessment of where you are in your healthspan trajectory, can get most people a decade. And that’s a big freakin’ deal.”
Exploring biological age
A key area of interest for Optispan is the subject of “biological age” – the idea that our cells and organs have ages that vary from our chronological age, depending on how much damage they’ve accumulated.
“We’re doing a lot of work to understand the more traditional biomarkers – blood analytes, body composition, and things like that,” says Kaeberlein. “I think there’s a huge untapped value in those biomarkers for monitoring biological aging and certainly healthspan.”
Optispan is also looking at existing biological age testing technologies to try to understand their applicability in a real-world setting.
“We’re looking at the common modalities people are using – epigenetics and glycan biology – as well as stuff that’s not commercially available yet, including an immune senescence and autophagy test,” says Kaeberlein. “Part of what we’re trying to solve is what can we do with these tests to get a science-based picture of what they’re telling us and whether they are, in fact, informative.”
Based on the literature, Kaeberlein suggests that epigenetic tests are currently no better at predicting mortality and future health outcomes than using standard clinical data.
“So, until these tests get to the point where they’re really giving us better information than the clinical data, should we be using them in clinical practice?” he asks. “It’s a philosophical question. But we would like to know the answer to that question, and I think that’s maybe one thing that differentiates us from some others.”
Targeting clinics and corporations
In its mission to help shift healthcare towards a more proactive model, Optispan is initially focusing on two markets: medical professionals and corporate wellness.
“On the medical side, this could be existing clinics or primary care doctors who want to move into a different kind of medicine,” says Kaeberlein. “We want to enable them to do that – give them everything they need to be able to do more proactive healthcare outside of the primary care system.”
And rather than trying to go after primary healthcare from the outset, corporate wellness is a logical first step for Optispan.
“When you think about the big insurers and hospital systems, it’s very difficult to go into those systems today and convince them to take a more proactive approach to health,” says Kaeberlein. “Companies, however, are interested in recruitment, retention, and employee health for productivity reasons. So, I think there are opportunities there for companies to provide a level of preventative care to their employees, which can supplement what they may or may not be getting from their primary care system.”
The road ahead
Optispan was initially incubated by Seattle-based data center provider Sabey Corporation, which is also its lead investor. The company has raised several million dollars in seed funding to date, which provides “some runway” to build out its programs.
“Our corporate wellness program is already well built out with a combination of biomarkers, screening diagnostics, metabolic module, medical review, and coaching, and we hope to bring on several new corporate clients in the next 12 months,” says Kaeberlein. “On the clinical side, we’re building out what we call the Trailblazer program, which is a high-end clinical program comparable to the highest end concierge clinics in terms of the patient experience.”
With a goal of getting 100 “Trailblazers” enrolled in the program this year, Optispan aims to use the results from the program to support the development of its longevity toolkit.
“Again, it’s partly a discovery process – we’re figuring out which diagnostics are most informative, how to integrate all the different data types, how to automate as much as possible, and so on,” says Kaeberlein. “My goal is that by the end of this year we should have a well-developed product that we can start taking to external partners and bring this level of care to as many people as possible.”