Here are the 8 most fascinating updates from this year’s Rejuvenation Biotechnology Conference… roughly in order of the credibility I place in each:
1. Hepatitis C is Cured – The only reason you haven’t heard about it, is because the company that developed the drug has spent years holding out for more money rather than fast tracking the treatment to market with larger partners. So after all this delay, the cure is finally here. It’s over 90% effective, requires no maintenance doses, and has almost no side effects. This is great news for the nearly 170 million patients worldwide with chronic Hepatitis C… except that it costs ~$150,000 per treatment. There are price breaks in many countries — but not in the US/UK. So most of the 4 million American sufferers will probably have their insurance companies force them onto existing, inferior, treatment for Hepatitis C that have much lower recovery rates and brutal (often permanent) side effects. I’m torn on this one. Curing Hepatitis C is a really big deal. And this could help lots of patients. But perhaps companies that invest in actual cures deserve to capture profits proportional to the value they’re creating, and not just what we’re used to paying for pills. (h/t Dana Goldman)
2. We Should Abolish The FDA’s Phase 3 Trials – Speaking of new drugs, if it really costs over $1B to test each new drug, maybe we should just lower the barrier to entry for new drugs by moving to a “safety only” regulatory system. I’m strongly in favor of this. Phase 3 trials are so difficult to pass that big pharma companies are following the lead of scientists in other fields and just faking all their studies anyway. So let’s stop all the pretense and the ceremonial destruction of billions of dollars just to create market protection for the biggest drug developers. Lowering barriers to entry would actually allow innovation by small biotech firms and the ability to treat diseases that don’t necessarily have trillion dollar “blockbuster” markets. (h/t Dr. Michael West)
3. Doctors Should Never Amputate Diabetic Limbs – You can apparently always save weakened limbs from amputation. Even when they are severely ulcerated or necrotizing! This totally blows my mind. And it flies in the face of conventional medical practice in all US hospitals. This year, American doctors will think nothing of amputating over 100,000 limbs due to complications from diabetes. Apparently they could completely eliminate this barbaric, psychologically devastating, and physically crippling practice, but none of them know where the six centers are around the country that can save these limbs. (h/t James Edward Olmos)
4. Whole Genome Sequencing Can Cost $0 – Closed datasets suck for doing science. And medical privacy is over-rated anyway. So why not just sign up for the Personal Genome Project and get your whole genome and biome sequenced for free. As a bonus, you’ll help accelerate scientists’ mission to figure out and cure all diseases. (h/t Dr. George Church)
5. Lifespans Will be Extended by Organ Engineering and Preservation – The Organ Preservation Alliance had a poster on display that outlined a 8 year plan to develop organ preservation technology that will add several years of additional healthy lifespan to most currently living adults. This is one of the only organizations I know of besides SENS Research Foundation that’s working on a plan ambitious and actionable enough to get us to longevity escape velocity. (h/t Sebastian Giwa)
6. Stem Cells Will Cure Everything – I ran into billionaire playboy Peter Nygard and his entourage of models at RB2014. He told me that his SCNT stem cell lab in the Bahamas is going to completely and universally reverse the aging process (and already has for him!). Even though his YouTube videos are some of the brashest shit I’ve ever seen, I still expect he’s funding better science than the average government health agency. Keep up the great work! (h/t Peter Nygard)
7. Fusion Energy is Coming in 3-6 years – Not really health related, but a company called Helion is planning to commercialize fusion energy in 6 years. Holy balls! Their investor story is apparently so epic that Mithril invested $1.5M in them along with YC. I’ll be more impressed in 2016 if Mithril is putting another $30-50M of Series C funding into Helion so they can build their 50MW net-energy positive reactor. (h/t Jim O’Neil)
8. Alzheimer’s is Probably a Latent Virus – At least that’s the working hypothesis proposed by an interesting attendee I ran into. There’s not much literature on this possibility, but given the ridiculously poor understanding of the disease, it sounds as reasonable as any other explanation I’ve ever heard. Part of the viral hypothesis is that Beta-Amyloids are not even a pathology, but merely a last ditch protective measure by the brain to try and stave off destruction of its valuable default mode network. Loss of this core system apparently leads to total and complete dementia. Another prediction of this theory is that the current “Beta-Amyloid Vaccines” that claim they might soon cure Alzheimer’s will eventually be shown to accelerate progression because they allow the virus to eviscerate the brain’s core functions even quicker. (h/t Dr. Donald Royall)
September 8Alex Kawas
1 is complicated for sure. I think this is where, if anywhere, a crowdfunded prize would be the best compensation model to minimize the access costs to extensive cure R&D. Prize terms would require price caps on the solution, combined with efficacy requirements.
8 is even more complicated and an interesting hypothesis.
September 8Harrison Johnson
September 8Paul Bohm
Interested in a candidate for dengue/flavivirus antiviral candidate that’s available over the counter right now? (off-label use – human trials start this year). Are there other people whose hobby it is to collect antivirals, antimalarials, antiamoebals, antibacterials, etc. that are likely effective even if primary treatment isn’t available or resistence develops? 😛
September 8Michael Keenan
I read an interesting proposal for funding drugs (unfortunately I can’t find the source right now): when a new drug is approved, the right to manufacture and sell it would be automatically auctioned. Then, 90% of the time, the *government* pays the resulting price to the creator, and releases the rights to the public. 10% of the time, the winner gets the rights.
It’s a weird system, leading huge price discrepancies between different drugs that did or didn’t get publicly released. But it’s probably better than the current system where all the drugs are highly priced for the duration of the patent, and it ensures the creator is paid according to the value they’ve created.
September 8michael vassar
Thanks on 3, missed that one.
WRT 4, MetaMed may make it possible in the near future to get paid a significant amount of money for participation in a similar project.
7 I’d bet 100 to 1 against without hesitation, though that doesn’t make it a bad bet. Mithril and YC are surely looking for a >100X return here.
8 is worth investigation, I’d give about 40% odds.
I think that Alex Tabarrok may be the source of the patent release proposal. At any rate I heard it from him and think it’s a very good idea.
Regarding 8: HSV1? Or some other virus? There’s been a theory for a while that HSV1 is responsible.
September 8Andy McKenzie
Re: #8, I think it might be a factor that increases the risk, or perhaps of some rare subtypes. But how does it explain:
– the strong association of AD with APOE (accounts for 50% of genetic variance, 2 APOE e4 alleles increase your risk by 10-fold)?
– the strong association of AD with Downs syndrome?
Recent article finds that HSV-1 IgM titers (indicating more recent infection) have a HR of 2, around the same amount as T2 diabetes does: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25043910
Just like I think the book *The Grain Brain* is largely BS because it concludes that these studies say diabetes cause AD, I also think that similar conclusions based on a study like the above are off-base.
Agreed worth investigating. Actually should be pretty easy, just need DNA from AD brains, check em for evidence of latent viral infection. Unless you think the virus is only infecting a small subset of neurons, which seems weird.
In the final analysis, I think, and would estimate with >90% probability, that viral infection is much less likely to be important than *aging*, independently of aging’s effects on the immune system, whatever the physiologic mechs of aging turn out to be.
You write “medical privacy is over-rated anyway”. Could you say / link to a little more regarding this?
October 12Alex Appel
I’d give 15 to 1 odds that Polywell or General Fusion will beat Helion to the starting gate of commercial nuclear fusion.