It’s said that nothing is certain except death and taxes. But doubt has been cast over the former since the 1970s, when scientists picked at the seams of one of the fundamental mysteries of biology: the molecular reasons we get old and die.
The loose thread they pulled had to do with telomeres—molecular timepieces on the ends of chromosomes that shorten each time a cell divides, in effect giving it a fixed life span. Some tissues (such as the gut lining) renew almost constantly, and it was found that these have high levels of an enzyme called telomerase, which works to rebuild and extend the telomeres so cells can keep dividing.
The company proposes to inject patients with viruses carrying the genetic instructions cells need to manufacture telomerase reverse transcriptase, a molecule involved in extending the length of telomeres.
Companies seeking to try the telomere approach often point to the work of Maria Blasco, a Spanish scientist who reported that telomere-lengthening gene therapy benefited mice and did not cause cancer. Blasco, director of the Spanish National Centre for Cancer Research, says she believes “many more studies should be done” before trying such a gene experiment on a person.
This isn’t the first time Libella has announced that its trial would begin imminently. It claimed in late 2017 that human trials of the telomerase therapy would begin “in the next few weeks.” In 2016, Andrews (then partnered with biotech startup BioViva) claimed that construction of an age reversal clinic on the island nation of Fiji would be complete “before the end of the year.” Neither came to pass.