Is it really possible to slow down the ageing process in pets?


Dogs are prone to neuro-degenerative diseases and cancer when they are old, which has an impact on their life expectancy. Photo: AFP

Companies are investing millions in combating ageing and mortality. But this phenomenon doesn’t just concern humans. A series of startups are working on extending the lifespan of our pets, raising major ethical questions.

Because, like us, pets don’t live forever. Dogs live, on average, between 10 and 13 years, although there are significant variations depending on the breed. Cats, meanwhile, have a life expectancy of between 12 and 15 years. Causes of death vary from one animal to another, although death from old age is not always the main cause. Dogs are susceptible to neuro-degenerative diseases and cancer when they reach an advanced age, which has an impact on their life expectancy.

Now, biotech companies like Loyal are trying to remedy this by helping pets age better. Loyal is currently developing three drugs – LOY-001, LOY-002 and LOY-003 – which could potentially extend the life expectancy of dogs. The first is aimed at large dogs such as Great Danes and Labradors, while the second is intended for older dogs of almost all sizes and breeds. LOY-003, on the other hand, would be better suited to larger canines like Mastiffs and Newfoundlands. Another difference is that LOY-001 will be administered by injection, unlike LOY-002 and LOY-003, which will be taken in the form of a tablet.

An extra year

While Loyal is maintaining an air of mystery about the exact composition of its drug prototypes, the New York Times claims that LOY-001 acts on IGF-1. This name refers to a hormone related to insulin, which plays a crucial role in muscle and bone growth. In some animals, including mice, IGF-1 is also linked to ageing. However, this process is reversible.

In 2022, Martin Holzenberger and colleagues succeeded in considerably extending the lifespan of transgenic mice by depriving them of the gene responsible for synthesis of the IGF-1 receptor. As such, Loyal researchers are reportedly investigating whether it might be possible to extend the life expectancy of other animal species, particularly dogs, by influencing the level of IGF-1 produced by their bodies. With this in mind, Loyal is currently conducting several clinical trials on dogs of different ages and breeds.

The startup’s research seems so promising that it is currently a subject of interest for the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). In November 2023, the FDA concluded that the data provided by Loyal was sufficient to demonstrate that there was a potential “reasonable expectation of effectiveness”, reports Freethink.

The startup hopes to obtain approval for commercialisation in the next few years, so that it can bring its drugs to market as soon as 2025 for LOY-002, and 2026 for LOY-001 and LOY-003, with the promise that they will enable “at least one year of healthy life span extension,” Loyal founder and CEO Celine Halioua, told the New York Times.

Ethical questions

Loyal is not the only startup working in this niche of the pet market. Other companies are developing ways to extend the life expectancy of pets by helping them to avoid developing certain debilitating diseases, such as chronic renal failure in cats and atopic dermatitis in dogs. Gallant Therapeutics, for example, is working on a number of stem-cell-based treatments to improve the health of dogs and cats. The startup recently raised US$15mil (RM71.6mil), demonstrating the appeal of its research.

If it’s really possible to slow down the ageing process in pets, it’s fair to ask which master could possibly resist? But above all, to what end? Is it really in the pet’s best interest, or is it more a question of postponing painful bereavement? And that’s not to mention the question of the animal’s consent.

Indeed, there is no way of knowing whether an animal wishes to prolong its life, or even that it might aspire to cheat death. On this point, biotech companies such as Loyal and Gallant Therapeutic are clear in stating that none of the treatments they’re developing will enable pets to live forever. – AFP Relaxnews

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