In the 1960s, Hayflick found that human cells divide only 40 to 60 times, after which they stop — even when their division is paused and then allowed to resume. This discovery, called the Hayflick Limit, indicates that even if a drug like metformin were effective at suspending aging, the end game stays the same.Aging is normalDr. Jonathan Flacker, an internist in geriatrics at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, said aging is simply not the same as an illness.“A disease is something not normal that some people get but not everybody gets,” he said. “The implication is that aging is abnormal and something nature didn’t intend.”Flacker is not terribly impressed with age-slowing drugs like metformin, either.“We’ll see,” he said. “The mechanisms that control aging are very fundamental and I think it likely that in trying to modify those pathways there will be some significant unanticipated consequences, but that’s why we have such studies in the first place.” While there is no formal campaign to add aging to the official list of diseases, new medical discoveries have opened the discussion. For instance, after studies showed that metformin, a common diabetes drug, could extend lifespan in rodents, researchers went to the federal Food and Drug Administration in June and won approval for human trials of the drug’s anti-aging properties.But there’s no assurance that the FDA would approve an anti-aging drug, even if the clinical trials are positive. The agency has never allowed such a drug on the market, because aging hasn’t been designated as a condition needing treatment.advertisement Experts interviewed by STAT differ on whether aging should be viewed as a disease, the extent to which it’s treatable — and whether doing so can help people live longer. Here’s what they had to say.Aging is a diseaseBiophysicist Alex Zhavoronkov believes that aging should be considered a disease. His company, Baltimore-based Insilico Medicine, Inc., is working on technologies around drugs to treat age-related illnesses. Zhavoronkov said that describing aging as a disease creates incentives to develop treatments. By Leah Samuel Dec. 29, 2015 Reprints Related: New medical discoveries have opened the discussion about whether aging should be added to the World Health Organization’s official list of diseases. Sebastien Bozon/AFP/Getty Images Hillary Clinton proposes funding surge to help cure Alzheimer’s by 2025 HealthCan we ‘cure’ aging? Scientists disagree Related: A progress report: Fighting the deadliest diseases, one step at a time Related: “It unties the hands of the pharmaceutical industry so that they can begin treating the disease and not just the side effects,” he said.“Right now, [people] think of aging as natural and something you can’t control,” he said. “In academia, people take aging research as just an interest area where they can try to develop interventions. The medical community also takes aging for granted, and can do nothing about it except keep people within a certain health range.”But if aging were recognized as a disease, he said, “it would attract funding and change the way we do health care.”Aging can be curedAubrey de Grey also advocates going after aging itself. He is chief science officer for the SENS Research Foundation, which conducts and funds research on regenerative medicine.“I don’t actually say aging is a disease,” he said. “Aging is bad for you, it’s a medical problem, but that’s just language.”What matters, de Grey added, is understanding that aging is curable.“It was always known that the body accumulates damage,” he said. “The only way to cure aging is to find ways to repair that damage. I think of it as preventive medicine for age-related conditions.”De Grey added that he is intrigued by the skepticism he finds.“It’s a curious thing, ” he said. “If you fix one disease of aging, that’s wonderful. If you fix two diseases, that’s wonderful.”Our lifespan is limitedLeonard Hayflick, a professor of anatomy at the University of California, San Francisco, said the idea that aging can be cured implies the human lifespan can be increased, which some researchers suggest is possible. Hayflick is not among them.“There are many people who recover from cancer, stroke, or cardiovascular disease. But they continue to age, because aging is separate from their disease,” Hayflick said. He added that even if those causes of death were eliminated, life expectancy “would still not go much beyond 92 years.” Patients aren’t told that death is near until too late. We can do better Aging happens to all of us, and is generally thought of as a natural part of life. It would seem silly to call such a thing a “disease.”On the other hand, scientists are increasingly learning that aging and biological age are two different things, and that the former is a key risk factor for conditions such as heart disease, cancer, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, and many more. In that light, aging itself might be seen as something treatable, the way you would treat high blood pressure or a vitamin deficiency.Those two are in the current International Classification of Diseases (ICD), a manual published by the World Heath Organization — but aging is not. The next revision of the manual is due out in 2018.advertisement Tags agingFDAgeriatrics
CVS Health announced Thursday morning that it has cut the price of two-packs of epinephrine auto-injectors to $109.99 — roughly the price that brand-name EpiPen shots were selling for eight years ago, before their escalating price became a hot political issue.A CVS Health spokesperson said that the pharmacies used to sell these products for about $200 a two-pack, and that the price cut was motivated by customers angry with the high price of epinephrine auto-injectors, which are used to quell severe allergic reactions. A press release cites “millions” of individuals who took to social media looking for a solution.The products that CVS Health is selling for such a low price are the authorized generic Adrenaclick auto-injectors. Meanwhile, it is selling the generic EpiPens for $339.99, and the brand EpiPens for $649.99.advertisement This announcement comes the day after President-elect Donald Trump declared at a press conference that drug companies are “getting away with murder” and that the government needs more power to be able to negotiate prices. Related: HealthCVS slashes price of substitute EpiPen auto-injectors to $109.99 By Ike Swetlitz Jan. 12, 2017 Reprints State Medicaid programs and big insurer drop EpiPens in favor of generics Justin Sullivan/Getty Images Tags drug pricingpharmaceuticals Some state Medicaid programs and the large private insurer Cigna have recently changed their policies, making it easier for patients to get generic auto-injectors and harder for them to get the brand-name products.advertisement CVS Health said that the $109.99 price is available to anyone who walks into the pharmacy.Commercially insured patients are eligible to receive $100 off that price via a manufacturer coupon, potentially lowering their cost to $9.99.Mark Donahue, vice president for investor relations and corporate communications at Impax Laboratories, which markets the generic Adrenaclick, said that the arrangement with CVS has been in the works for several weeks. Impax is selling the auto-injectors directly to CVS, without a middleman wholesaler.Donahue said that Impax primarily works with wholesalers, but that it is able to work directly with some large pharmacy chains to sell them certain products like this. He did not comment on whether cutting out the middleman allows Impax to sell the auto-injector for a lower price. He declined to disclose how much they are charging CVS for the auto-injectors, but said that it is “obviously less than the WAC price,” which currently sits around $400.Mylan, which markets the EpiPen and its generic, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
GET STARTED What’s included? Log In | Learn More Daily reporting and analysis The most comprehensive industry coverage from a powerhouse team of reporters Subscriber-only newsletters Daily newsletters to brief you on the most important industry news of the day STAT+ Conversations Weekly opportunities to engage with our reporters and leading industry experts in live video conversations Exclusive industry events Premium access to subscriber-only networking events around the country The best reporters in the industry The most trusted and well-connected newsroom in the health care industry And much more Exclusive interviews with industry leaders, profiles, and premium tools, like our CRISPR Trackr. STAT+ is STAT’s premium subscription service for in-depth biotech, pharma, policy, and life science coverage and analysis. Our award-winning team covers news on Wall Street, policy developments in Washington, early science breakthroughs and clinical trial results, and health care disruption in Silicon Valley and beyond. [email protected] @megkesh What is it? Biotech Correspondent Meghana covers biotech and contributes to The Readout newsletter. About the Author Reprints Unlock this article — plus daily market-moving biopharma analysis — by subscribing to STAT+. First 30 days free. GET STARTED Tags diagnosticsgeneticsSTAT+ Meghana Keshavan By Meghana Keshavan May 11, 2017 Reprints Business Matt Houston/AP J. Craig Venter’s outfit Human Longevity is offering a pared-down version of its signature Health Nucleus program — an extraordinarily in-depth physical exam priced at $25,000.The newer pilot, dubbed Health Nucleus X, will be offered at a discounted $7,500. It offers whole genome sequencing, some lab tests, and a full-body MRI scan — with an add-on microbiome analysis for another $500. Q&A: Craig Venter’s discounted genome sequencing — now at $7,500
VA plans mental care for discharged vets, but at what cost? Log In | Learn More Associated Press About the Author Reprints STAT+ is STAT’s premium subscription service for in-depth biotech, pharma, policy, and life science coverage and analysis. Our award-winning team covers news on Wall Street, policy developments in Washington, early science breakthroughs and clinical trial results, and health care disruption in Silicon Valley and beyond. What’s included? VA Secretary David Shulkin Andrew Harnik/AP GET STARTED By Associated Press May 24, 2017 Reprints Daily reporting and analysis The most comprehensive industry coverage from a powerhouse team of reporters Subscriber-only newsletters Daily newsletters to brief you on the most important industry news of the day STAT+ Conversations Weekly opportunities to engage with our reporters and leading industry experts in live video conversations Exclusive industry events Premium access to subscriber-only networking events around the country The best reporters in the industry The most trusted and well-connected newsroom in the health care industry And much more Exclusive interviews with industry leaders, profiles, and premium tools, like our CRISPR Trackr. Politics Unlock this article by subscribing to STAT+ and enjoy your first 30 days free! GET STARTED WASHINGTON — Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin touted new efforts Wednesday to expand urgent mental health care to thousands of former service members with less-than-honorable discharges, even while acknowledging his department isn’t seeking additional money to pay for it.Testifying at a House hearing, Shulkin offered new details on his initiative announced in March to stem stubbornly high rates of suicide. Stressing a need at that time for “bold action,” he noted the additional coverage would help former service members who are more likely to have mental health distress. Of the 20 veterans who take their lives each day, about 14 had not been connected to VA care. What is it? Tags Congressmental healthpolicy
HealthRays of hope: light therapy through the ages The science behind the infrared saunas sweeping Hollywood Smoothing blemished skinDoctors have long used forms of near-infrared, ultraviolet, and laser therapy to treat skin conditions. It’s an easy sell to patients who feel disfigured by conditions like cystic acne, psoriasis, eczema, vitiligo, and skin lesions. To this day, light therapy is marketed as an outpatient treatment for many dermatological woes.Somewhere along the way, though, marketers got the idea that they could sell light as having broader beautifying effects. Beauty Angel, a company based in Germany, boasts that standing inside one of its infrared light machines makes you pretty by building up collagen, reducing fine lines, and softening the skin. Small studies have found some improvements in the skin appearance of healthy patients exposed to various light therapies (including LED lights and infrared diode treatment).But when celebrities claim that relaxing in an infrared sauna can rejuvenate cells and flush out toxins, they’re way overselling the science. The treatment became less common after 1932, when the U.S. began adding vitamin D to milk. Doctors also realized that it actually doesn’t take much sun to get enough vitamin D, as long as there’s some skin exposure.advertisement Strengthening fragile bonesBeginning in the late 1800s, it wasn’t unusual to go to a hospital and see small groups of children and babies, wearing little more than protective goggles, sitting around under or in front of what was essentially a giant sunlamp. The ultraviolet light was meant to treat a condition called rickets, which causes the bones to soften. In the most severe cases, children with rickets develop bowed legs. The condition is caused by a severe vitamin D deficiency; doctors thought high doses of ultraviolet light would help by spurring the children’s bodies to synthesize vitamin D. And there’s some anecdotal evidence that it did make a difference. Improving mental healthIt’s debatable whether light therapy can make you look good, but studies show that it can make you feel good — or better, anyway. Recent studies provide evidence that light therapy can improve symptoms of depression in college students, pregnant women, and other adults. A 2016 study found that even among patients already taking antidepressants, those who added bright light to their regimen found more relief.There’s now a whole market for “light therapy” boxes to treat seasonal affective disorder (depression that surfaces in the low-light seasons of fall and winter). They sell for anywhere from $25 to $300. Comparing the Covid-19 vaccines developed by Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson Trending Now: By Leah Samuel Aug. 3, 2017 Reprints A group of children wearing goggles sits in front of large reflecting lamps at the Institute of Ray Therapy. Fox Photos/Getty Images Tags mental healthwellness It was an arresting image: Four children, wearing black masks to protect their eyes, sitting in front of large lamps. The caption placed them at London’s Institute of Ray Therapy, which opened in 1930.The old photo got us thinking about light therapy, then and now. A hundred years ago, it was all the rage; in addition to the Institute of Ray Therapy, London also boasted a Municipal Sunlight Clinic. The concept seems to be coming back in vogue now; celebrities from Jennifer Aniston to Lady Gaga have been touting the benefits of sweating it out under infrared lights in a steamy sauna.A little digging through old medical journals (and, yes, modern search engines) turned up an array of therapies based on artificial light. Here, some of our favorites uses for the humble lamp:advertisement Related:
In some ways, the Center for Innovative Phage Applications and Therapeutics simply gives a name — and $1.2 million — to an institute that already exists. After word got out that Strathdee and her husband’s doctors had managed to save his life with a bacteriophage — literally, a bacteria-eater — her inbox filled with pleas for a repeat performance. They came from all over: the U.S., the U.K., Australia, India, China, Albania. In almost every case, there was someone dying because of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Viruses that had specifically evolved to kill those microbes might be able to help. “Trust me, at the Eliava, we have tried to convince people that phages are a safe and good alternative to antibiotics for many years,” said Mzia Kutateladze, the director of the Eliava Institute. “Finally the people agreed to use it, and we are very happy, of course.” She estimated that Eliava’s phage therapy center gets around 15 to 20 Americans every year.“There really is, thankfully, some momentum building … around these non-traditional therapies,” said Dr. Helen Boucher, an infectious disease specialist at Tufts Medical Center in Boston, who is not involved with the UCSD project. “I would think of this more in a high-risk, high-reward category. This is largely uncharted territory. … At the end of the day, if you have a product that can work against antibiotic-resistant organisms that isn’t antibiotics, that would be huge.”The news that her brainchild had been funded took Strathdee by surprise in late May. She was at a ceremony for UCSD professors with endowed chairs, at which all of them received medals. “The chancellor’s literally putting the medal around my neck, and he said, ‘Hey, I just sent you some money today,’” she recalled.The new center will collaborate with companies such as AmpliPhi Biosciences and Adaptive Phage Therapeutics to treat future patients. Some of them will have cystic fibrosis, which causes mucus in the lungs to be overly sticky, often allowing drug-resistant microbes to proliferate. Others might have long-term infections that are preventing them from getting organ transplants. Yet others will have implanted devices, which sometimes provide the nooks and crannies where bacteria can grow into a slimy film.“The sad thing is that there is going to be no shortage of patients,” said Strathdee. Tags infectious diseasevirology Related: Bacteriophage are viruses that infect bacteria. David Gregory & Debbie Marshall/ Wellcome Collection HealthFirst phage therapy center in the U.S. signals growing acceptance A patient’s legacy: Researchers work to make phage therapy less of a long shot Related: [email protected] Comparing the Covid-19 vaccines developed by Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson To save a young woman besieged by superbugs, scientists hunt a killer virus General Assignment Reporter Eric focuses on narrative features, exploring the startling ways that science and medicine affect people’s lives. The announcement is also symbolic of a wider shift. With the rise of antibiotics in the 1930s and ’40s, phages went out of fashion in the U.S. But the person who had named them, a Canadian microbiologist named Felix d’Herelle, moved to Tbilisi, in the republic of Georgia, continuing his research at an institute that attracted the admiration of Joseph Stalin himself. Even after d’Herelle’s death, the Eliava Institute kept the flame of phage therapy alive.That hardly helped the viruses’ reputation in America during the Cold War. “It was commie science; there was a taint to it,” explained Dr. William Summers, a phage biologist, historian, and professor emeritus at Yale University.Even though phages continued to be an important part of lab science, the researchers who used them thought they were good for just that: research. The idea of using them for therapy was almost a joke.Then, as antibiotic resistance grew into a worldwide crisis — one that kills some 23,000 Americans a year — that joke started sounding more and more appealing. The funding of a center to administer and collect data on phage therapy is a reversal, of sorts: An admission that this long-disparaged idea is worth a million-dollar second glance. Getting phage therapy to a patient can be a bit a puzzle. These viruses are picky about the microbes they feast on, so you often need to take a swab of the patient’s bacteria, nurture it in a dish, and then test which phages are able to kill it off. You need to make sure that the phages in question will explode a bacterial cell, rather than settling comfortably inside like lice on a kindergartener’s scalp. And then you need to purify it before delivery, so there aren’t any bacterial leftovers that might poison the person instead of saving them.There’s also plenty of bureaucracy, because phages have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration.It’s often a crazy rush to find the right phage with emails and calls and tweets, then getting emergency experimental approval — and that was largely what happened for the five other patients who’ve been treated with phages at UCSD since Strathdee’s husband was revived.“We wanted to make it so it isn’t such a scramble,” said Dr. Robert “Chip” Schooley, an infectious disease specialist at UCSD, who administered the phage to Strathdee’s husband, and who is also co-director of the new center. @ericboodman Sometimes, Strathdee and her network couldn’t act fast enough, and the patient died. But occasionally, it worked out. “I’ve had a second job as a phage-wrangler,” said Strathdee, who is the associate dean of global health sciences at UCSD, and who has been named a co-director of the new center. “When we started to treat patients, each one was like reinventing the wheel all over again: The phone calls at the 11th hour, the paperwork.”advertisement By Eric Boodman June 21, 2018 Reprints When her husband was dying of a drug-resistant infection, Steffanie Strathdee had a last-ditch idea. They could try treating him with a virus that would kill the bacteria colonizing his insides. The method, called phage therapy, was popular in former Soviet republics, but had mostly been abandoned in the U.S. Researchers had to hunt for the right virus in Texas pigsties and sewage treatment plants.That was 2016. Phage therapy is still very much experimental — but it’s come a long way since then. New companies have popped up, hoping to get approval to sell these viruses as drugs. A phage directory has come together, lab by lab, helping doctors figure out who has which virus.Now, the U.S. is getting its first phage therapy center, at the University of California, San Diego. Its mission is to run clinical trials, but also to streamline the mad dash to secure the right phage before a patient dies.advertisement About the Author Reprints Trending Now: Eric Boodman