The Special Operations Command (SOCOM) is developing a new anti-aging pill that could inhibit or reduce some of the degenerative effects of aging and injury – part of a broader Pentagon push to improve human performance.
SOCOM, which oversees the country’s special operations forces and is part of the Department of Defense (DOD), expects to begin clinical trials next year. “We have completed pre-clinical safety and dosing studies in anticipation of follow-on performance testing in fiscal year 2022,” said Navy Commander Tim Hawkins, a SOCOM spokesperson.
Hawkins said SOCOM “has spent $2.8 million on these efforts” since its launch in 2018. SOCOM is using Other Transaction Authority (OTA) funds to partner with private biotech laboratory Metro International Biotech, LLC (MetroBiotech) in developing the pill, which is based on a human performance small molecule.
Small molecule drugs have distinct advantages as therapeutics
Pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, which is not involved with the anti-aging pill, said that small molecule drugs have some distinct advantages as therapeutics. Most can be administered orally and they can pass through cell membranes to reach intracellular targets. They can also be designed to engage biological targets by various modes of action and their distribution can further be tailored, for example to allow for systemic exposure with or without brain penetration.
“These efforts are not about creating physical traits that don’t already exist naturally. This is about enhancing the mission readiness of our forces by improving performance characteristics that typically decline with age,” Hawkins explained. (Related: Another attempt at the super soldier? Researchers develop artificial muscles that can lift 1,000 times their own weight.)
“Essentially, we are working with leading industry partners and clinical research institutions to develop a nutraceutical, in the form of a pill that is suitable for a variety of uses by both civilians and military members, whose resulting benefits may include improved human performance – like increased endurance and faster recovery from injury.”
A nutraceutical is a product derived from food that contains health or medicinal benefits in addition to the nutrients and minerals it provides. Examples of nutraceuticals include dietary supplements, fortified dairy products and antioxidant additives.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate nutraceuticals. Meaning, they’re exempted from the rigorous standards that help to regulate prescription drugs.
Previous studies show boosting NAD+ can extend life span of mice, worms
According to MetroBiotech’s website, the firm has developed a number of proprietary precursor compounds for “nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD+),” a coenzyme that is critically important to the function of all living cells. It is involved in energy metabolism and energy production, mainly converting food into energy that cells use.
The website explains that reduced levels of NAD+ are linked to aging and numerous diseases, including mitochondrial dysfunction, inflammation and a variety of associated diseases. These levels decline as humans age and remain depleted during disease states.
Pre-clinical evidence suggests disease- and age-related functional decline can be mitigated by boosting NAD+, which supports MetroBiotech’s hypothesis that maintaining optimal NAD+ levels may allow humans to lead longer and healthier lives.
The website Scientific American reported that previous studies have shown that boosting levels of NAD+ can extend the life spans of mice and worms. Animal research also found that increasing NAD+ levels helped rejuvenate the mitochondria – cell organelles that produce energy for the cell – in old mice.
If results are successful, the pill could have the potential “to truly delay aging, truly prevent onset of injury – which is just amazingly game changing,” said Lisa Sanders, director of science and technology for Special Operations Forces, acquisition, technology & logistics (SOF AT&L).
Sanders told the Defense One Defense Tech Summit that SOCOM’s ability to use OTAs and Middle Tier Acquisition authorities has helped the command “explore things in this burgeoning sector of biotechnology.” Those authorities have allowed SOCOM to enter into partnerships with industry, research institutes and labs to spur commercial research that could result in health benefits for the troops, she explained.
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