Genflow Biosciences is a UK-based biotech company working to deliver therapeutics that slow or halt the ageing process in humans and dogs.
In January, Genflow became the first-ever longevity company to be listed on the London Stock Exchange.
The company is preparing to trials its candidate GF-1002 in patients with Werner syndrome.
It is also collaborating with the University of Rochester’s Aging Research Center to assess the potential of SIRT6 gene therapy in reversing the ageing process in liver tissue.
We sat down with CEO Dr Eric Leire to learn more about the longevity industry and Genflow’s ambitious plans for the future.
Hi Eric. Please could you start by introducing Genflow
Genflow is the first pure play longevity company to be listed in Europe and one of the few longevity-focused companies.
In the US, longevity is becoming mainstream, both in terms of clinical research and investment. Companies like Unity have huge market cap.
What we want to be the longevity reference company for Europe.
Our science focuses on SIRT6, and more specifically, a variant of the SIRT6 gene that’s linked with the control of ageing.
So when you talk about longevity, is it about living longer or living a better quality of life while you’re alive? Or a combination of both?
It’s a combination, but the main objective is not to live longer, it’s kind of a byproduct. Our real objective is to have the last 10-20 years of your life be as comfortable as possible.
To not only delay age-related diseases like type two diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer, but also delay the decline we observe with ageing.
Things like cognitive problems with memory. People tend to forget things more often as they get older.
Their muscle mass decreases too, which is a huge issue because that impacts your ability to move in the world. You lose those social connections.
There’s absolutely no reason now to have the last 10 years of your life miserable. We have to change the mindset that we should just accept it.
Age is a risk factor that can be managed.
We can act on the drivers of ageing, we understand the biology of ageing, and we can improve the way we age. It’s imperative on a societal level that we address this.
We’ve been raised with this idea that there’s a few old people at the top of the pyramid supported by a large amount of young people.
But for the first time, in human history, this pyramid does not exist. We now have more people aged over 60, than under five.
It’s impossible to have a small number of young people supporting a large mass of people who are getting sick, who are not contributing to society.
It’s not sustainable, economically or socially. So we have to do something. And we have the tools to do something. It’s very exciting to be in the longevity sector.
Humans have always longed for a ‘foundation of youth.’ What developments in recent years have made living longer, better lives a realistic goal?
The main obstacle in the past was regulation.
You need to have approval from the likes of the FDA and the MHRA.
Right now, these agencies are not considering ageing as a risk factor, which is ridiculous to me.
Covid has given us a fantastic illustration that ageing is a risk factor for infectious disease and that an older person’s immune system does not respond as well as that of a young person.
It’s obvious now, it’s becoming a mainstream concept. People don’t develop type two diabetes in their 20s, strokes and cancer are rare.
Age plays a major role.
The fact now that the agencies are moving to accepting ageing as a risk factor is a major driver. And when this will happen, that will be a major change, because science is advancing extremely fast.
It’s started with repurposing. A few guys proposed taking things like vitamins and green tea. Forget that. It’s of marginal benefit.
Then there was some repurposing of drugs like metformin.
Through this research, we’ve seen the first indication that the FDA will consider ageing as a risk factor. And that could lead to the approval of metformin to be an agent against ageing.
There are also now a lot of companies that want to act on the drivers of ageing. Unity is the big one.
We have a pretty good understanding of what drives ageing. We understand that we can reprogram cells and that cells lose their programming over time.
Ageing is plastic, we can reverse it. It doesn’t flow in one direction. Every week, there’s a new paper coming in and we understand more.
Where does gene therapy fit in?
If you use metformin, if you do intermittent fasting, if you lower your caloric intake, you can live a little bit longer.
But how well or badly we age is genetically determined. A human being can live until 126 but no more.
If we want to have a significant impact, it’s at the genetic level. So we need to boost our genetic equipment to deal better with the repair of DNA and reprogramming of cells.
Gene therapy and gene delivery are now booming.
The two AAV drugs that were approved [Zolgensma and Luxturna] were million-dollar drugs. Now we have the means to develop AAVs that are less immunogenic with a better safety profile.
We can modify the capsid [protein shell] of AAVs, we can use exosome to protect them from the being seen by the immune system.
So we have multiple tools and we can also decrease the lab scale cost of AAVs, so they are no longer a million dollars.
That’s very important because when people think ageing, they think it will only be Jeff Bezos and his friends who are jogging and doing the marathons and 150 while the rest of us die horribly at 90. That’s not the case.
We can have now affordable, ethical gene therapy that is not passed on to your children.
The combination of the advanced gene therapy and a deeper understanding of the process of ageing allows us to provide some very nice solutions.
So how are you applying this now with your lead compound GF 1002?
Werner syndrome is a disease of accelerating ageing. It’s very important for us to stay as close as possible to ageing tenants.
When you’re a serious company that wants to get a drug approved, you have to go to the MHRA or FDA and address an indication that they regulate.
We went with progeria because it’s a rare disease which gives us the opportunity to seek Orphan Drug Designation (ODD). They’re working on the ODD right now.
That allows us to have multiple interactions with the agency. This is extremely important because, as gene therapy, early interaction with the agencies is an extremely important factor of success.
Longevity is now major, mainstream research. It’s not something on the side, but it’s mostly biotech companies. It’s too risky for pharma.
I come from an immunooncology background. For the first 10 years, people said it would never work. Pharma was not interested. And then the last 10 years were fantastic and now we’re seeing these acquisitions at crazy prices.
The UK Government is very concerned about the financial and social burden a large number of people old people will put on the young. So the MHRA will be feeling the pressure.
As soon as regulators shift to accepting ageing an indication, there will be major acquisition waves from the pharma industry.
Everybody without exception will age. So it’s the ultimate market.
We’ve seen movement from the FDA, so we know it’s coming. The only question is, will it be one year, two years, three years? Which agency will be first?
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