In September, Novartis Chairman Joerg Reinhardt announced the company’s new commitment to aging research. “Over the long term, one could argue that R&D productivity has relentlessly declined,” he said in a keynote at a drug development conference in Basel, Switzerland. Aging represents a fertile field of discovery: Identifying the pathways and proteins associated with aging could yield promising drug targets, he said. By tweaking the right pathways, researchers could theoretically prevent a host of age-related diseases. Novartis is not alone in this: Chicago-based AbbVie has complete a $750 million partnership with Calico, an aging-research venture founded by Google.
Rapamycin isn’t the only widely used medication that’s turning out to have possible anti-aging properties. Millions of diabetics take a drug called metformin, which has been around for decades. Like rapamycin, metformin extended the life of federally funded mice in a clinical trial. And there is evidence that it might do the same for people. Diabetes typically shaves about five years off a person’s life. But a large retrospective analysis found that diabetics on metformin had a 15 percent lower mortality rate than nondiabetic patients in the same doctors’ offices. “To me that suggests that it’s actually targeting aging,” says Kennedy.