We recently posted a Challenge in conjunction with the SENS Foundation, an organization that was founded to develop, promote and ensure widespread access to regenerative medicine solutions to the disabilities and diseases of aging. This Challenge is seeking innovative ideas to help reverse age related illnesses, specifically in conjunction with the buildup of glucosepane. A solution to this Challenge could allow humans to live longer, healthier lives. We asked Dr. Aubrey DeGrey, Chief Science Officer for the SENS Foundation, to talk to us a bit about this Challenge and the impact that a solution would have on human lives.
Your Challenge is seeking a method for breaking down glucosepane, which is a major cause of age-related illness. Can you tell us why this has been such a difficult problem to solve?
Glucosepane is a spontaneously-formed chemical modification that affects proteins. Some proteins in the body, especially those that make up the "extracellular matrix" (the network that holds our cells in place), are created early in life and stay in place for decades, so they accumulate a lot of glucosepane. This affects the flexibility and elasticity of the matrix, which can cause problems like hypertension. But glucosepane is chemically rather stable, so it has been hard to identify any drug that can break or remove it. Maybe we need to be more creative.
How quickly do you think a solution could be put into practice and actually have an impact on human lives?
That depends very much on the nature of the solution, because (for example) a drug that has already been approved for other uses can be approved for a new use much more quickly than a new drug can. But in some scenarios I think we could be talking about only a few years.
One of the consequences of a successful response to this Challenge, and of the SENS Foundation's work on rejuvenation biotechnologies in general, is the maintenance of human health throughout life. If the Glucosepane Challenge is solved, how would it contribute to keeping us healthy as we go through life?
A solution to this Challenge would alleviate a number of important health conditions associated with aging. The two most obvious ones are hypertension and loss of visual accommodation. We become less able to focus on near objects as we get older, and this is largely due to the accumulation of glucosepane in the lens. Hypertension is life-threatening, because it contributes to many health complications including diabetes and kidney failure.
What’s the next category of aging damage that you’d like to tackle?
We are actually tackling several aspects of aging damage simultaneously: you can find details on our website, sens.org. In most cases, though, there's no shortage of ideas for how to proceed: it's just a matter of securing the resources to get the work done.
What appealed to you about posting your Challenge to InnoCentive’s Solver Community? What role do you think open innovation can play in drug discovery?
The main appeal to us of the InnoCentive approach in this case is that the mainstream expert community working on the chemistry that forms glucosepane (and related chemicals) has pretty much lost interest in destroying it, in favour of trying to slow down the rate at which it is created in the first place. SENS Foundation is focused on actual repair of age-related damage, rather than just its retardation, so we feel that it's time to bring new eyes to this problem. In general, I think open innovation has the advantage of encouraging the exploration of hard problems by people who are not so encumbered by the relevant field's conventional wisdom and may be more likely to come up with wholly new approaches.
You have stated that you “look forward to collaborating with the Solver to arrange licensing and potential funding for commercialization of the solution.” Can you tell our Solvers what they might expect in this area and where you expect this funding to come from?
It's not possible to be too specific until a particular solution emerges, of course, but the market for a successful treatment of hypertension is obviously astronomical. As such, it is very likely that early work to demonstrate proof-of-concept of a new approach will be of interest to big pharma, who will be keen to invest at an early stage.
Thanks, Dr. DeGrey, and good luck with your Challenge.