“Here it is, the elixir of life!”  Joan Mannick drops a shiny, salmon-pink pill into my palm.  It’s RTB101, a drug developed by Mannick’s Boston-based biotech company that could change the future of aging forever.

I feel a crazy urge to pop it into my mouth.  Versions of this drug have extended the lives of countless worms, fruit flies and mice by slowing down an ancient aging process.  But unlike most other promising substances that have come and gone, this one has been shown to work in another notable species: humans.

In studies of more than 900 people by Mannick and her team, RTB101 and its cousins bolstered aging immune systems, cut risk for respiratory diseases and may have lowered the risk of urinary tract infections.  A version of the RTB101 drug could win Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval as early as 2021 for a single, age-related health threat: the winter colds, flu, pneumonia and other respiratory tract infections that send over 1 million older adults to the hospital every year and kill more than 75,000.  Studies of the drug as a preventive for Parkinson’s disease and possibly heart failure are set for later this year. 

In the suddenly hot world of aging science, RTB101 is an A-list celebrity.  It’s the biggest star to emerge from the National Institutes of health’s little-known, taxpayer-funded Interventions Testing Program (ITP), which has been quietly experimenting with compounds thought to extend longevity in mice and worms at three major laboratories across the nation.  One of the best-kept secrets in aging research, the $4.7 million-a-year ITP has also debunked some big antiaging crazes, including green tea, curcumin and resveratrol. 

But RTB101 has shown real promise, as have other similar drugs.  An unprecedented number of age-defying compounds from labs across the U.S. are now heading into human clinical trials for the first time. 

“We’ve reached the perfect storm in aging science,” says physician Nir Barzilai, founding director of the Institute for Aging Research at Yeshiva University’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, New York.  “Everything is happening. We have the foundation from decades of animal studies. We’re ready to move on to people.” 

The ultimate goal is to put the brakes on aging itself—preventing the pileup of chronic health problems, dementia and frailty that slam most of us late in life. “I want 85 to be the new 65,” says Mannick, the chief medical officer and cofounder of resTORbio, the company developing RTB101.

(by Sari Harrar for AARP Magazine, June/July 2019)