In the early 1990s, an overgrown shaggy schlub of a St. Bernard named Beethoven won the hearts of millions of children in a pair of hit theatrical films, the titularly titled “Beethoven” (1992) and “Beethoven’s 2nd” (1993). Sadly, the real-life Beethoven died shortly after filming the sequel, thereby inadvertently raising awareness about how St. Bernards and other large breed dogs such as Great Danes, Newfoundlands and Mastiffs tend to have shortened life spans of only 7 to 10 years. Conversely, shorter dog breeds (if healthy) can live about twice as long.
“We hope that one day we can translate what we’ve learned about longevity in dogs into similar therapies for humans.”
But what if there was a way to extend the lives of these big dogs? One company aims to do just that. San Francisco-based startup Loyal is a clinical-stage veterinary medicine company that recently made headlines for working to receive conditional approval for a new drug from the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). (Yes, the same government agency responsible for regulating human pharmaceuticals does the same for animals.) The company is part of Cellular Longevity, a biotech firm that develops drugs aimed at extending life. a lifetime of not only dogs, but also a day of people.
Meanwhile, Loyal is on track to petition the FDA for approval of three drugs: LOY-001, LOY-002 and LOY-003. The company has not released the actual chemical names of these drugs and did not respond to Salon’s question about what they are. But based on what they shared, LOY-001 seems to reduce a growth-promoting hormone in dogs called IGF-1, and in the process increases the life expectancy of these animals. If it becomes available by Loyal’s target year of 2026, dogs treated with LOY-001 will receive shots every three to six months when they reach age seven and weigh more than 40 pounds.
It has been established that IGF-1 levels are associated with longevity and aging in mice, worms and fruit flies. Since large dogs typically have 28 times more IGF-1 than smaller dogs, it makes sense that LOY-001 could extend the life expectancy of large breeds through the same principles applied to other animals, although the overall evidence remains unclear. .
“Everyone with a large-breed dog is faced with the dreaded reckoning around their dog’s reduced life expectancy,” Celine Halioua, Loyal’s founder and CEO, told Salon via email. . “We do not accept this. There is [25 million] large breed dogs in the US alone — that’s 25 million dogs we can help live longer, and have a better quality of life.”
As with anything involving animal research, a study like this can raise ethical concerns, according to Adam Boyko, a professor at Cornell University who runs a canine genetics lab and co-founder of dog DNA testing company Embark Veterinary.
“The main ethical concern I see here is ensuring that experimental drugs are used judiciously with a reasonable expectation of a positive cost benefit to the dogs enrolled in the study,” Boyko said. . In addition to protecting the dogs in the study itself, pets receiving those first shots also need to be protected — which means owners must be informed that the drug is experimental and updated when there is new information.
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“The LOY-001 drug aims to undo the damage introduced by years and years of selective breeding in humans.”
“Experimental drugs and clinical trials are common in pets, so I don’t think it’s necessary to worry about a careful and well-conducted launch of drugs, but making sure the risk is low is key because the These drugs are given to healthy dogs,” Boyko explained. He also noted that — because drugs like LOY-001 can respond to human aging as well as canine aging — dogs are at risk of exploitation unless pharmaceutical companies and the medical community practice transparency. .
“One might see a company potentially continuing to market a drug that has shown some promise in reversing the aging clock but has also shown some unacceptable risks in some dogs because of their interest in generating more data to better inform potential human therapies,” Boyko said. “So, transparency is really key so owners can make informed decisions about what’s best for their dog.”
When Salon asked Halioua about the ethical concerns that have arisen in drug trials like those with LOY-001, he replied that Loyal prioritizes safety and efficacy.
“We all have a responsibility to do the right thing by dogs – we feed and shelter them and take care of their health,” explained Halioua. “We give them medicine when they are sick. Our products follow the same principle – supporting the quality of life of dogs in their middle years so that they remain healthy as they age and therefore living longer, better lives.”
Halioua also pointed out that the company’s mission is actually reversing a form of human-caused cruelty to dogs.
“The LOY-001 drug is focused on undoing the damage introduced by years and years of selective breeding in humans,” Halioua pointed out. “It’s unambiguously beneficial to dogs.”
At the same time, Halioua acknowledged that Boyko was right about the implications of LOY-001 for human aging. That said, Halioua emphasized that the company’s priority is to help large breed dogs. His further observation is that “it is also true that dogs are a good model for aging in humans. We live in the same environments and share similar lifestyles. We face similar age-related diseases for for both reasons. Because of this we hope to one day be able to translate what we learn about longevity in dogs into similar therapies for humans.”
The long-term implications of LOY-001 need not only benefit humans. After all, if long-breed dog lifespans and human lifespans can be extended by pharmaceuticals, why not extend the lifespans of non-large breed dogs?
“Yes — we’re already working on that drug,” Halioua told Salon. “We have three drugs currently.
Boyko shares Halioua’s optimism about non-large breed dogs benefiting from research being done by companies like Loyal.
“While LOY-001 targets insulin growth factor signaling (which is a key driver of both body size and reduced longevity in large dog breeds), other anti-aging drugs target other different pathways and are more likely to work in all dogs,” Boyko told Salon. “Tests of some of these drugs in laboratory animals have been impressive so there is reason to believe that they will also be successful if properly administered to pets and even humans.”
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