The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that with aging comes increased chances of dementia, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, arthritis, and various cancers. But BioViva is looking to attack the aging process head-on.
Gene therapy is a technique that modifies a person’s genes to treat or cure a disease. Bio-tech companies working with gene therapy are popping up rapidly, like clock.bio, Genflow Biosciences, and Rejuvenate Bio, to name a few.
And BioViva is staking their claim, too. The biotech company aims to use gene therapy to treat genetic disorders and cellular aging. Innovative treatments for aging are growing in demand due to the rising older population. Americans over 65 years old grew at its fastest rate from 2020 to 2020 since the 19th century.
BioViva CEO, Liz Parrish, says breakthroughs to promote human longevity are needed now more than ever.
"The global population is getting older. There’s nothing wrong with this, but they are also becoming more sick due to aging. What this means is more strain will be placed on already overburdened healthcare agencies," Parrish tells Healthnews. "Fewer people will be able to work, and more will need constant care. Due to the need for prolonged care, Alzheimer’s and other dementias are the costliest disease in the world. The Silver Tsunami will obliterate the global economy if nothing is done. Public officials now realize they have to act."
The CDC says steps for healthy aging include a diet with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, water, and low-fat dairy options. Additionally, the agency recommends about 30 minutes of activity each day, no use of tobacco, and regular physician checkups.
Although steps to prevent diseases that come with aging can help, they are not certain. Parrish notes sometimes we see the "fitness fanatic" who dies at 65 or the individual who has all markers of an unhealthy lifestyle but survives to a "ripe" old age. She highlights the difference between their genes.
We want to believe we have total control over our health outcomes, but this isn’t the case. The rate at which we age is not as set in stone as our hair color, but it’s abundantly clear that in this area, like any other, some of us are just dealt worse hands. But regardless of lifestyle, everyone gets diminishing returns over the years. Gene therapy will literally level us all up.- Parrish
Gene therapies in development
The Alzheimer's Association says more than six million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s Disease, with that number expected to rise to 13 million by 2050. BioViva’s lead gene therapy, called BV-702, is currently in preclinical development for Alzheimer’s disease. Also, an additional adeno-associated virus (AAV) therapy, BV-130, is in the works. The FDA has approved five AAVs in gene therapy, none relating to combating aging.
"Our BV-702 is formulated specifically to target a root cause of neurodegeneration by restoring microglia and astrocyte function," Parrish says. "Among many other duties, they are the custodians of our brains. Once they become dysfunctional, inflammation and its accompanying problems arise."
Microglia are resident immune cells within the central nervous system (CNS), serving as the security guard for the brain and spinal cord. In diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson's, microglia become unable to fulfill their duties. Astrocytes are another type of glial cells that lie in the CNS and are responsible for transmitting signals. Loss of function may have implications for neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer's.
Along with its AAV-based therapies, BioViva has a patent pending on cytomegalovirus-based vectors, known as CMV. This gene therapy delivery method requires fewer treatments to deliver more genetic information. The larger carrying capacity allows CMV to target multiple issues at once, Parrish says. In animal studies, CMV treatment extended lifespan by over 41%.
"Gene therapies like BioViva’s BV-702 attack the hallmarks of aging. These processes lead to diseases like dementia and cancer," Parrish says. "There is no such thing as 'healthy aging.' And because aging is not simple, using a gene delivery platform like CMV is paramount. BioViva’s gene therapies are designed to slow, prevent, or reverse the diseases of aging."
Examples of aging hallmarks include telomere shortening, Klotho depletion, and mitochondrial dysfunction. Telomeres are specific DNA–protein structures located at the end of each chromosome. As we age, telomeres shorten, which can lead to increased cases of disease. Klotho is a protein that is associated with the aging process, meaning klotho depletion may increase symptoms of aging.
Parrish says BioViva is exploring mitochondria as a way to increase healthspan. Mitochondria are known as the "powerhouse" of the cell due to producing the majority of energy responsible for all cellular processes. Mitochondrial dysfunction is associated with neurodegenerative and cardiovascular diseases.
Parrish’s hopes are for CMV to not only carry multiple genes to treat aging, but to leverage the platform to build gene therapies for other companies. BioViva is looking to continue searching for more genes that impact the hallmarks of aging.
"No one can indefinitely remain in good health because of the aforementioned hallmarks," Parrish concludes. "While how and when varies from person to person, aging eventually takes its toll on us all. This is why we need to seize the reins with gene therapy."
- Census.gov. U.S. Older Population Grew From 2010 to 2020 at Fastest Rate Since 1880 to 1890.
- CDC. 6 Tips For Healthy Aging.
- FDA. What is Gene Therapy?
- Frontiers. Microglia and Beyond: Innate Immune Cells As Regulators of Brain Development and Behavioral Function.
- Antioxidants. The Role of Astrocytes in the Central Nervous System Focused on BK Channel and Heme Oxygenase Metabolites: A Review.
- Integrative Medicine. Mitochondrial Dysfunction and Chronic Disease: Treatment With Natural Supplements.
- BioViva About Us.