Throughout recorded history, people have sought a way to avoid aging and extend life. Ponce de Leon’s search for the elusive “fountain of youth” led to the exploration of Florida. Today, as baby boomers move forward into old age, the interest in a true anti-aging formula is growing.
An article in Technology Review describes the efforts of one company, Elysium Health, which is taking a non-traditional route in developing its anti-aging formula. Elysium is taking its research and offering a nutraceutical, rather than a pharmaceutical pill. This will allow it to bypass approval by the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and all the costly and time-consuming testing required by that agency.
Elysium’s founder is Leonard Guarente, an MIT biologist. His collaborators include five Nobel Prize winners. Guarente was previously associated with Sirtris Pharmaceuticals, which originated studies on the product, hoping it would help treat diabetes. Sirtris sold the formula to GlaxoSmithKline, which eventually sold it to Elysium.
The product is a blue pill called Basis, which contains a chemical precursor to nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide, or NAD, a compound that used by cells in metabolic reactions such as release energy from glucose. The compound creates an effect similar to a calorie-restricted diet, which has been shown to extend life in laboratory mice.
The company is following strict pharmaceutical-quality production standards, and sell the product through its website for $60 for a 30-day supply, or $50 per month. Says Guarente:
You have high-end prescription drugs up here, which are expensive. And you have the nutraceuticals down there, which are a pig in a poke—you don’t know what you’re getting and you don’t know a lot about the science behind them. There’s this vast space in between that could be filled in a way that’s useful for health maintenance.
Nir Barzilai, director of the Institute for Aging Research at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, has coauthored scientific papers with Guarente but is not involved in Elysium. He says:
NAD replacement is one of the most exciting things happening in the biology of aging. The frustration in our field is that we have shown we can target aging, but the FDA does not [recognize it] as an indication.
Decades of testing would be required to prove the efficacy of NAD, while marketing it as a nutraceutical supplement makes it available immediately.
Experts are not in agreement as to whether NAD will actually slow down the aging process over time. NAD levels do decline with age, but that correlation may not necessarily mean that raising NAD levels will affect the aging process. As one expert says, “There is enough evidence to be excited, but not completely compelling evidence.”