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Tapping into the molecular fountain of youth

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At just 40 years old, Kristen Fortney has spent more than half of her life thinking about the science of aging. But why?

Professional headshot of Kristen Fortney

Kristen Gortney, CEO, BioAge Labs

Permission granted by BioAge Labs


“When I get asked this question I usually blame it on reading too much science fiction,” the CEO and co-founder of the clinical-stage biotech BioAge Labs said with a laugh. “My co-founder, Eric Morgen, and I have been talking about aging since high school.”

Now they’re doing more than talking about it. Through BioAge Labs, the duo is working to extend people’s healthy life spans by developing therapeutics that target the molecular causes of aging. Many diseases, including cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer’s, are driven by this aging process.

Aging is “sort of the big, unaddressed causal factor of all of these, and the whole vision is that if we understand aging better, we’re going to be able to target, treat and even prevent these diseases,” Fortney said.

BioAge uses an AI-driven discovery platform, which analyzes longitudinal data from a human biobank, along with detailed health records, to map the key molecular pathways that impact healthy human aging. From there, the company aims to target these mechanisms of aging with either drugs that are discovered internally or in-licensed molecules that already exist. 

Prolonging the health span

There’s nothing wrong with aging, per se. But Fortney argues there is something wrong with how we age. That’s why BioAge is less concerned with extending the human life span and more concerned with extending the human “health span” — that is, increasing the number of healthy years as we get older.

“Life span is how long you live, and health span is how long you’re healthy,” Fortney said. “It’s a word I love because you really want to emphasize that it’s about staying healthy longer. It’s not about eking out another few years in the hospital. It’s healthy years where you’re out of the nursing home and can play with your grandkids.”

Fortney noted that the average human life span is in the low 80s, but the average health span — marked by the age a person gets their first age-related chronic disease — is in the low 60s.

“Then it’s 20 years. It’s a quarter of your life,” she said. “It’s a long, slow decline. It’s the most expensive period of your life from a healthcare perspective. It’s not high quality. And we know we can do better.”

In fact, there’s already plenty of real-world evidence of the human species doing better. The world is filled with examples of people who live into their hundreds and who are healthy for most of those years.

“You might think, ‘Oh, they’re living longer therefore there’s going (to) be 40 years in decline,’ but that’s not true,” she said. “These people have delayed incidents of multiple different age-related diseases. They’re functional, mentally and physically, a lot longer than the rest of us. And they’re walking proof that this can work in a human context.”

So, yes, aging is inevitable. But the illnesses that often accompany aging are not. The key is figuring out what people with long health spans have in common, which is where the biobank analysis comes in.

In December, the company announced positive phase 1b clinical data for its drug BGE-105, which was developed to prevent muscle atrophy, a universal feature of human aging that’s exacerbated by issues like hospitalization and other forced inactivity.

“I think a lot of people who get into science are sort of inspired by science fiction. It’s really painting these possible worlds.”

Kristen Fortney

CEO, BioAge Labs

“We found that in our human cohorts, middle-aged people with higher levels of apelin are more likely to live longer and are more likely to have better muscle function in a linear way,” Fortney said, meaning that when compared to other people in the same age group, the more apelin, the better.

The research found that treatment with BGE-105, a small-molecule agonist of the apelin receptor APJ, “resulted in statistically significant prevention of muscle atrophy relative to placebo in healthy volunteers aged 65 or older after 10 days of strict bed rest,” the company said.

In addition to treatments for muscle aging, BioAge also has candidates in its pipeline for immune aging, including ocular diseases and brain aging (in currently undisclosed indications).

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