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Two Experimental Drugs Reduce Infections in the Elderly

Despite the treatment being given for only six weeks, the positive effects lasted for a year.

Jul 12, 2018
Sukanya Charuchandra

Acombination drug therapy that inhibits the TORC1 pathway involved in immune responses boosted the health of people 65 years and older, according to research published in Science Translational Medicine yesterday (July 11). 

“This study is the first step to suggest we may be able to target some of the fundamental pathways contributing to aging to promote healthy aging, including healthy immune function, in older people,” coauthor Joan Mannick, the chief medical officer at resTORbio, Inc, tells WBUR.

As part of the study, led by the Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research, researchers administered one or two drugs or a placebo for six weeks to 264 people 65 years or older. Both drugs fight cancer, with one already approved and used to prevent transplant rejection. The two drugs inhibit the activity of a key molecule called mTOR that signals through a cellular pathway, TORC1, involved in aging and the immune system, among other functions. Previously, drugs belonging to the same class have been known to extend the lifespan of lab models. 

After a year, the researchers found that subjects who received the combination therapy showed a 40 percent reduction in colds and respiratory infections. Additionally, the drugs augmented the body’s response to a flu vaccine by producing 20 percent more antibodies against the influenza virus.

“Perhaps the most exciting aspect of the results is that the protection lasted for the duration of the study, namely a year, even though the drug was only given for the first six weeks,” Aubrey de Grey, who studies aging at the SENS Research Foundation and was not involved in the study, tells WBUR

Given that respiratory infections and susceptibility to flu are both major issues for older people, these results are quite promising, according to The Guardian

“I think this study raises the real possibility that most middle-aged adults could benefit from short-term treatments with mTOR inhibitors,” Matt Kaeberlein, director of the Healthy Aging and Longevity Research Institute at the University of Washington, who was not involved in this research, tells The Guardian

Among the side effects observed, diarrhea was most frequent. 

“It is premature, in my opinion, to rule out major negative effects of the pharmacological agents used in this study among subset of human subjects,” George Martin, a professor emeritus of pathology at the University of Washington, writes to WBUR.

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