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Calico: A Startup Trying To Stop The Aging Process

 “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it”. The pacing of aging eludes many people, and before they know it, they are looking backward instead of forward. Death and aging are seen as inevitable facts of life, the same truth that says the sun will rise in the east and set in the west. Aging is a universal feature of life, which some people embrace, and some actively avoid. The startup ‘Calico’ is attempting to look behind the mysterious curtains of the aging process, to understand the genetic foundation, in order to tackle aging head-on. 

Backed By Google And Founded With An Ambitious Goal

Calico was founded in 2013, founded by Bill Maris, backed by Google, and has been frequently speculated to have the ultimate goal of “achieving eternal youth” and “cheating death”. However, Maris proclaimed that he founded Calico to “put a stake in the ground to say this stuff is important and worth investing in because we’re all going to be patients at some point”. The company’s mission is to extend human lifespan, and backed by one of the most profitable, well-established companies, Calico can afford to answer such questions.

Doubled Life Expectancy

Over a hundred years ago, the highest causation of death was due to infections. Advances in vaccinations, medication, nutrition, and superior public health systems have doubled life expectancy in developed countries, from 40 to 80 years. New contenders are haltering the human lifespan from increasing past 80, those being cancer, dementia, strokes, and heart disease. These conditions increase as a factor of age, so instead of directing scientific efforts at the individual diseases, Calico attacks the common risk factor, which is age. 

The Company Shrouded In Secrecy

The company however is shrouded in elusiveness and secrecy. It has an aversion to releasing journals, share research developments, and visiting scientists must sign nondisclosure agreements. This practice is very archaic in terms of modern scientific endeavor, as transparency, data sharing, collective efforts are the best tools for driving scientific progression.

Regarding the secrecy of Calico, Eric Topol, an aging researcher at Scripps Translational Science Institute, said “They’re hyper secretive. I have invited them to speak at our program we have on genomic medicine. They say ‘no, they can’t talk about what they’re doing.’ I am not sure why that’s the case.” Felipe Sierra, aging director at National Institute on Aging, said “We want to know what they are doing so we can focus on other things, or collaborate. They are a research company, so what are they researching?”  

Calico Avoiding The Media Hype Associated With Disruptive Startups

Speculation for remaining elusive can be due to avoidance of media hype, or due to drug development. It is typical in the drug development industry to remain elusive, to avoid competition. Calico has partnered with C4 Therapeutics in 2017, for a five-year collaboration effort, to develop drugs that combat age-related diseases. Nir Barzali, the aging researcher at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, believes this doesn’t explain their secrecy, as he stated “The researchers [Calico] hired are using models such as yeasts, nematodes, and naked mole rats. These are not the models that are relevant for drug development.” 

Using Naked Mole Rats For Research

Naked mole rats live for 30 years, but a mouse only three, which is of interest to Calico. Vice President of Aging Research at Calico, Cynthia Kenyon, demonstrated 20 years ago that altering a singular DNA base pair in a roundworm enabled it to double its lifespan. This demonstrates the malleability of animal life span and potentially finding the genetic material responsible within humans could cause similar outcomes.

Near Starvation As The Reason For Eternal Life?

Furthermore, researchers found that rats feeding on near-starvation diets have been able to live nearly 50% longer. Yeast cell research showed that under desirable conditions, such as plentiful food sources, cells grow fast. Under stressful conditions, cells grow slowly, thus enabling a longer life. Calico, influenced by the research, is funding a seven-year study, which follows the life of a thousand mice, searching for biomarkers of aging. 

Calico partnered with AbbVie in 2015, for research collaboration. In 2018, both invested an extra $500 million, and both are continuing their joint involvement into 2022. The research focuses on three areas; how individual cells receive stress, animal testing, searching the human genome for the genetic basis of aging

The Startup Calico May Offer A Solution For The Most Fundamental Problem In Biotech

Aging is the ‘most fundamental unsolved problem in biology’, and tackling such an endeavor brings about a flurry of philosophical ideologies. Implications of inequality, consequence to the job market, among a myriad of other implications are raised. Furthermore, the philosophical debate of the nature of extending life, undesirability and morally unacceptable, pertaining to community, justice, and the meaning of life

Calico may offer the world something profound in the coming decades, which will revitalize the way humans live their lives. It may just be a matter of merely switching a genetic base pair to give us 80 years longer on this Earth, to further learn, read, foster relationships, and experience the world around us. Although, the obvious socio-economic implications of such discoveries, it does bring about a certain excitement into the world of scientific endeavor.

Jon is a writer for RegTech Global, specialized background is in Computer Science, Zoology, Finance, and Neuroscience. He is interested in biotechnology and Green-tech and pursues these fields in his professional life. Outside of writing, Jon is passionate about the outdoors, enjoying hiking, surfing, and skiing.


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