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Gene Therapy Licensed for Multiple Aging Diseases

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel (Pixabay, Pexels)

6 Feb. 2020. A university spin-off company developing treatments to extend the lifetimes of dogs is gaining a gene therapy for preventing multiple age-related diseases. Rejuvenate Bio Inc. in La Jolla, California is licensing the gene therapy from Harvard University, where the company’s founders conducted the research behind its technology.

Rejuvenate Bio develops therapies for extending the lives of dogs, beginning with a treatment for mitral valve disease, a condition contributing to heart failure in dogs. The mitral valve is a one-way valve between the left atrium and left ventricle chambers in both humans and dogs that keeps blood from flowing back into the atrium. Because the left ventricle pumps blood to the rest of the body, the mitral valve is under more pressure and can wear out. Mitral valve damage can cause leakage back into the atrium, leading to heart failure, where blood is not adequately pumped to the body.

In dogs, mitral valve disease is among the leading causes of heart failure and shortened lives. One breed particularly affected by the disorder is the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, a toy spaniel where mitral valve disease affects as many as half of the dogs in North America, according to K9Web.com. The site says mitral valve disease leads to premature death and compromised quality of life for cavalier spaniels at a rate unknown to any other breed in the world.

Rejuvenate Bio’s treatment for mitral valve disease licensed from Harvard is based on research conducted in the lab of geneticist George Church at the university’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering, and led by research scientist Noah Davidsohn. Both Church and Davidsohn are founders of Rejuvenate Bio in 2018, with Davidsohn continuing as the company’s chief scientist.

Davidsohn’s work with Church aimed to solve a continuing problem in the health of older people and dogs, the simultaneous occurrence of several serious diseases associated with aging. In most cases, disorders like heart and kidney failure are treated individually, and not always coordinated with type 2 diabetes and obesity treatments. The simultaneous occurrence of these diseases in many older people suggests the need for a simultaneous, coordinated treatment.

As reported by Science & Enterprise in November 2019, a Wyss Institute/Rejuvenate Bio team led by Church, with Davidsohn, and company co-founder and CEO Daniel Oliver, found that a cocktail of gene therapies can reduce or reverse four age-related diseases — obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart failure, and kidney failure — in lab mice. Their paper in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that a single gene therapy made of fibroblast growth factor 21 or FGF21, combined with transforming growth factor-beta receptor 2 or sTGF-betaR2 can simultaneously treat all four diseases.

The company believes this same approach can be applied to multiple cardiac diseases in dogs. “Since the treatment works to suppress fibrotic processes,” says Davidsohn in a Wyss Institute statement, “we believe it could also be applied to other heart diseases such as dilated cardiomyopathy, which eventually leads to congestive heart failure and/or sudden death in affected dogs.” The company is enrolling dogs with mitral valve disease in a pilot test of the gene therapy.

“Science hasn’t yet found a way to make complex animals like dogs live forever,” adds Church, “so the next best thing we can do is find a way to maintain health for as long as possible during the aging process.”

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