Q: What does BioViva do?
Last update : 2022
BioViva is paving the way and creating of next-generation regenerative gene therapy.
These therapeutics will bring a future of healthy human longevity for all. Our mission is to extend health span to new levels. We constantly push beyond what is considered possible and deliver sophisticated technologies to the world.
Q: What is healthspan?
Imagine being physically fit, sharp, and energetic well into what is now considered old age. Healthspan is how long you remain youthful, how long you retain the vim and vigor of someone at or near the prime of their life. There are negligibly senescent animals, like the Naked Mole Rat, that age in this way - that only are “old” for a small fraction of their total lifespan. But there’s no need to look to other species.
People age at vastly different rates. Many people, when they think of longevity, imagine someone being kept alive in a hospital. This is not the future BioViva envisions. The goals of prolonging healthspan and lifespan are not opposed to one another; they are inextricably intertwined.
It is impossible to significantly lengthen lifespan without first improving healthspan.
Q: Why gene therapy?
Q: What is the biggest challenge currently faced in health technology?
The biggest challenge is moving away from the reactive and risk adverse system to a proactive and preventative system. Aging is a complex disease, gene therapy is hitting it’s stride with monogenic or single gene mutations, treating aging will take more muscle and more genetic material. I feel that the biggest challenge is to go beyond one or two genes and precisely modulate the genome. An analogy would be to a big orchestra, we are currently tweaking the individual players in the brass section, or the woodwind section, but in the future we want to be the conductor simultaneously instructing the entire orchestra to produce harmonious music, or optimal health. Our CMV vector addresses this switch towards using more genetic material in one therapy.
Governmental and public understanding - Most people currently do not understand that all non-communicable chronic diseases, aka diseases of aging, have a root cause. The root cause being accumulation of damage at a cellular level over time. And in the last 3 decades we have successfully mitigated aspects of this phenomenon in several animal species. If we have the public and the political will we can do this in humans. COVID was an example of how fast we can move as a society, and these gene therapies have gone through a lot more testing that the vaccines originally had. Yes, there are great technological challenges but we can overcome those if we collectively try.
Q: Why address aging when people are suffering and dying from so many other diseases?
One of the major misconceptions about aging research is that it diverts energy from dementia, diabetes, cancer, and other terrible but all-too-familiar diseases. However, all of the diseases mentioned are the direct result of biological aging. By successfully treating aging we could irradicate many of these diseases at one time. Aging kills up to 41 million people a year! It is the biggest medical unmet need and aging disease are in the top four positions on all non-communicable diseases. Aging is the root cause. Effective methods to prevent, treat, or reverse these infirmities will undoubtedly come from biogerontology.
Understanding how to address these problems entails first understanding the aging process and its underpinning molecular drivers.
Q: Liz Parrish, the founder and CEO of BioViva, is patient zero of a gene therapy treatment that affected her telomeres. Why do telomeres matter?
Liz Parrish received a dual gene therapy composed of follistatin and telomerase in 2015. Telomeres are the caps at the ends of our chromosomes. When our cells divide they sacrifice themselves to protect our DNA. When they become critically short, cells stop dividing and become senescent.
Over the last ten years telomeres have received a lot of attention from researchers and the general public for good reason. There are few markers of good health that are not directly or indirectly affected by telomere length.
You can find a peer-reviewed paper here:
Q: If people can live much longer and healthy lives, what about overpopulation?
This is one of the most common objections to longevity research. Have you ever taken antibiotics, had a c-sction, or surgery? Have your children? Then you’ve already artificially prolonged your life far beyond the “natural” age for most of human history - most folks died of viral or bacterial infections before they were 35.
Moreover, we don’t believe the elderly should be viewed as disposable or unimportant. We understand that overpopulation is a problem. Yet many countries are experiencing negative population growth. While this may look good at first glance, the ramifications of shifting demographics are anything but desirable. As the average age continues to climb, the world faces severe labor shortages. The cost of treating the diseases of aging the the USA alone is $3.8 trillion per annum.
Proposals such as raising the retirement age will not fix the reality of aging or age-related diseases. They are barely bandages, as they do not change the fact that many people are simply unable to work once they become too old. A fit and healthy, productive society will continue to innovated and solve bigger problems.
Q: Do you consider yourself primarily an anti-aging company? If not, how would you describe your mission?
Q: What recent innovation do you feel is has had the biggest impact on healthcare and by extension, humanity?
Q: How far have we come in age-related research over the past few decades?
Leaps and bounds. Age-related research was virtually non-existent before the 80s, 90s even. It took the first few researchers like Cynthia Kenyon in 1993 showing the lifespan of C. elegans could be doubled by a gene mutation to actually establish that lifespan was inherently malleable, for the scientific community to gradually come around to the idea that aging wasn’t as inevitable as we once believed. Since then it’s been a struggle to shift the work mainstream but with the advent of companies in the last few years, like Calico (Google) and Altos (Jeff Bezos), times have changed drastically.
We can now clear senescent cells from mice which produces just over a 20% increase in lifespan and a range of beneficial health effects too. Telomerase gene therapy shown in Maria Blasco’s lab has also extended lifespan by up to 24% and came with better health in a range of biomarkers and physical changes crucially without increasing cancer incidence. We recently published a paper in which we saw approximately 41% increase with our CMV vector. We also increased the lifespan of mice by 32% with a gene called follistatin. You can find the paper here: https://www.pnas.org/doi/10.1073/pnas.2121499119#fig03
Some of these percentage increases might seem paltry to the casual observer, but we’re demonstrating something absolutely fundamental - that we can do something about aging and that we’re on the right track. The initial growth steps in any industry or breakthrough are always the hardest. Furthermore, these interventions aren’t just about increasing life span and BioViva certainly isn’t. The vast majority of these interventions didn’t just improve life span but also improved healthspan too, meaning these animals were healthier for longer! We’ve extended lifespan to a point in humans today, but more people are living with age-related disease than ever before. This has to be fixed and so far research that intervenes with aging processes provides improved health too, which is an excellent sign.
Q: How many genes is BioViva currently exploring to treat aging?
Q: How do you see the future of age therapies developing over the next 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years?
We are already seeing successful treatments demonstrated in animal models be translated into people for the first time, mostly through medical tourism. We will soon see the results from the first pharmaceutical trials dedicated to aging and age-related disease and we’ll see gene therapy be widely and firmly adopted. There are currently 5 regulatory approved gene therapies!
Beyond that we’ll see gene editing come into play (already used for Sickle Cell Anemia), allowing us exceptionally accurate control of gene expression. The tuning of gene expression and repressing or activating particular genes to refresh cellular behavior to a healthier, more youthful profile.
Stem cell work has taken us a bit longer than people initially predicted, but we’re making some serious headway now so the following decades and this decade will certainly bring in some awe inspiring work from laboratories and new clinical treatments that allow us to grow new organs, repair damage knees that was previously permanent and patch up damaged hearts with your own cells. Human's never been able to grow new body parts before, but labs are doing it now and it’s immensely exciting. Combining both gene and cell therapies has phenomenal potential as well, enabling transplants of optimised cells and even engineering new cells with novel proteins or improving and editing the immune system to eradicate cancer better for example.
The turning point will come when we truly and opaquely demonstrate significant health improvement in people with a therapy. Once people see that we can do something about aging there will be a massive public opinion shift.