Patent rights to UCSF aging research licensed to biotech company

By Wallace Ravven

UCSF has completed a license agreement with Elixir Pharmaceuticals, Inc. to provide the company access to aging-related genetics discoveries made by one of Elixir’s founders, Cynthia Kenyon, PhD, the Herbert Boyer Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics at UCSF.

The agreement with Elixir grants rights to Kenyon’s discovery that decreasing the activity of a single gene in a nematode worm doubles the animal’s lifespan. The gene, known as DAF-2, encodes a receptor for insulin as well as for insulin-like growth factor.

The same hormone pathways have since been shown to affect lifespan in fruit flies and mice, and therefore are likely to affect human lifespan as well. The UCSF-Elixir agreement includes access to intellectual property resulting from Kenyon’s research on the DAF-2/insulin/IGF-1 signaling pathway in the worms.

Elixir plans to develop drugs to target different steps along the DAF-2 pathway that regulate the aging process and the onset of age-related diseases. The aim is to extend the period of youthful, productive life in humans and to prevent or delay the onset of age-related diseases such as cancer and diabetes.  The Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company has exclusive licenses from researchers at other institutions for genetics-based longevity discoveries in fruit flies and yeast.

The DAF-2 gene affects reproduction as well as aging, and many researchers have predicted that lifespan could not be extended without inhibiting reproduction. Kenyon’s laboratory recently discovered that vigor and lifespan in the worms can be extended without dampening reproduction or causing any apparent side effects as long as DAF-2 is silenced only in adulthood.

Cynthia Kenyon became a UCSF professor in 1986 after a post-doctoral fellowship at the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge, England. She received a PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a BS in chemistry and biochemistry from the University of Georgia. She will direct the new Hillblom Center for the Biology of Aging at UCSF’s recently completed Genentech Hall, located on the university’s new Mission Bay campus.