Companies are investing millions to fight aging and mortality. But this phenomenon does not only concern humans. An ecosystem of start-ups is developing to extend the lifespan of our pets, which raises important ethical questions.
Because, like us, pets are not eternal. Dogs live, on average, between 10 and 13 years, although there is wide variation depending on the breed. Their best enemies, cats, have a life expectancy of between 12 and 15 years. The causes of death vary from one animal to another, although death from old age is not necessarily the rule. Dogs are susceptible to neurodegenerative diseases and cancers when they reach old age, which impacts their life expectancy.
Biotechnology companies, like Loyal, are trying to remedy this problem by helping pets age better. Loyal is currently working on developing three drugs – LOY-001, LOY-002 and LOY-003 – that would extend the life expectancy of dogs. The first would be aimed specifically at large dogs like Great Danes or Labradors, while the second would be aimed at older pooches of almost all sizes and breeds. LOY-003 would be more suitable for larger canines such as Mastiffs and Newfoundlands. Another difference: LOY-001 will be administered by injection, unlike LOY-002 and LOY-003 which will take the form of a tablet.
An extra year of life
If Loyal maintains mystery as to the exact composition of its drug prototypes, the New York Times affirms that LOY-001 would act on IGF-1. This name refers to a hormone related to insulin, which plays a very important role in muscle and bone growth. In some animals, including mice, IGF-1 is also linked to aging. However, this process would be reversible. In 2022, Martin Holzenberger and his team succeeded in considerably increasing the lifespan of transgenic mice by depriving them of the gene which ensures the synthesis of the IGF-1 receptor. Loyal researchers are wondering whether it would not be possible to extend the life expectancy of other animal species, and more 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 start-up’s research appears so promising that it has attracted the interest of the United States Medicines Agency (FDA). The latter estimated, in November 2023, that the data communicated to it by Loyal is sufficient to demonstrate that there is a “reasonable expectation of effectiveness”, according to the Freethink information site.
The start-up hopes to obtain marketing authorization in the coming years, in order to be able to market its drugs from 2025 for LOY-002, and 2026 for LOY-001 and LOY-003. With the promise that they will allow “an extension of at least one year in the lifespan (of dogs who take them), without deterioration in their state of health“, as Céline Halioua, founder and CEO of Loyal, told the New York Times.
But Loyal is not the only start-up in this niche market of the “pet economy”. Other companies are trying, like her, to extend the life expectancy of our pets by helping them avoid developing certain debilitating diseases, such as chronic kidney failure in cats and atopic dermatitis in dogs. Gallant Therapeutic is working on the development of several treatments, still experimental, based on stem cells to improve the health of doggies and cats. This start-up recently managed to raise the tidy sum of $15 million, which proves the appeal of its research.
If slowing down the aging of pets becomes possible, we are entitled to wonder which owner will resist it. But above all, for what purpose? Is it really in the best interest of his little companion or rather to delay the end of a painful bereavement? The question arises, as does that of the animal’s consent. Indeed, there is nothing to indicate that the latter wishes to see his life prolonged, or even that he potentially aspires to cheat death. On this point, biotech companies like Loyal and Gallant Therapeutic are clear. They claim that none of the treatments they are developing will allow pets to achieve immortality.