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Startup of the Week: A Subscription for Anti-Aging Pills... for Mice

Take an Index, get some Basis, increase your NAD+. It’s simple, except for the lack of evidence that this mitigates aging in humans.

by Ashwin Rodrigues
Nov 25 2019, 6:43pm

Image: Getty

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The pitch

In 2154, the Earth is an uninhabitable shitworld, and ultra-rich people live on a utopian space colony. This is the movie Elysium.

In 2020, you can mail in a spit sample and in return see how fast your cells are aging, then get prompted to buy some pills in the hopes of slowing down the process. This is the pitch for the company Elysium Health, which offers its co-called “Index” test for $500.

The Index test purports to provide customers with a “cumulative rate of aging and biological age—the age at which their body is expected to perform. The report also includes general recommendations for healthy living and lifestyle factors that have been shown in clinical research to impact the clock, although there’s no guarantee that these changes will impact your biological age,” a company spokesperson said to Motherboard.

If you do take the $500 test “regularly,” the spokesperson said, you can “determine how your rate of aging changes over time and to see if lifestyle and other changes made can impact how you age in the future.”

Terrific! And what do you do with that information? As the bottom of Elysium Health’s website disclaims, Index “should not be used to determine or alter any age-related health or medical treatments based on your chronological age,” unless directed otherwise by a doctor.

Elysium Health’s main business is selling Basis, a nicotinamide riboside (NR) supplement that increases nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD+), which is involved in many of the body’s day-to-day cellular processes. Basis costs $60 for a month’s supply, or $50 per month as a subscription.

What problem does it solve?

Elysium Health seeks to address the age-old problem of old age. Elysium Health claims that “clinical trials in humans, including our own trial, demonstrate that supplementing NR can increase the body's supply of NAD+.”

Whether this actually slows aging in humans is not yet proven. NAD+ has shown to be an effective anti-aging component in mice and yeast. But as New York comedian Sheng Wang noted, “we don't really care about rat news. Especially if it's positive. We don't want to hear about how their population can thrive further. I'd rather read about rat plight." Elysium Health’s short human trial shows the NAD+ increase, but not the metabolic or overall health improvements. Another human study from Elysium Health’s main competitor, ChromaDex, indicated NR’s ability to raise NAD+, but doesn’t mention any anti-aging effects.

In short, though NAD+ has anti-aging effects for mice, mouse studies are often overhyped. Just because something works in a mouse does not mean it’ll work in humans. In fact, cancer researchers are interested in NAD+ as a possible suspect for fueling cancer growth in humans, as a May 2019 article from Scientific American notes.

Despite the lack of evidence or FDA approval, Elysium Health has millions in funding and genuinely impressive resumes in its orbit.

The leadership team at Elysium Health has five PhDs, and touts a Scientific Advisory Board with “more than 25 world-renowned researchers and clinicians, including eight Nobel Prize-winning scientists,” who are tasked with guiding the “scientific direction” of the company.

Are you confused, and thinking, these people clearly know more than I do, given their academic credentials, Nobel Prizes, and lab coats?

That might be part of the plan. “They are part of a marketing scheme where their names and reputations are being used,” former Harvard Medical School dean Jeffrey Flier told the MIT Technology Review in 2017.

“Several of Elysium’s scientific advisory board members said their involvement should not be seen as an endorsement of the company or its pills,” the Review story goes on to say.

In the same way companies sometimes “greenwash” their image to appear more environmentally-friendly, perhaps a company attaching itself to as many PhDs and Nobel Laureates as possible could be trying to “brainwashits image.

Who is giving them money?

Elysium Health has raised $31.2 million since its founding in 2015. Investors include Silicon Valley Bank, which led its last $5 million round of debt financing in 2017, and Cambridge, Mass-based VC fund General Catalyst, which led its $20 million Series B round in 2016. Robert Nelsen, who Forbes once described as “Biotech’s Top Venture Capitalist,” has also personally invested in Elysium Health.

What are The Experts saying?

“The company’s first product is Basis, a supplement that combines compounds designed to increase NAD levels and activate sirtuins, boosting cellular health and longevity." -TechCrunch

“Researchers are still working to prove that NR can actually improve human health—a sticking point for critics and an issue acknowledged by the companies themselves.” -Scientific American

“A ‘Fountain Of Youth’ Pill? Sure, If You’re A Mouse.” -Kaiser Health News

“If I had paid $500, I would likely be disappointed” -FastCompany

“There’s no guarantee that Elysium’s first product, a blue pill called Basis that is going on sale this week, will actually keep you young.” -MIT Technology Review

“I take that Elysium stuff...I take that stuff every day. I like it. Um, but-I guess. I don’t really know. I take a lot of things. I don’t really know.” -Joe Rogan

Should you buy it?

If you have $500 laying around that you might end up spending on things that will hyper-age you, like tanning sessions or a cigarette and cocaine smoothie, this is a foolproof way of ridding yourself of that harmful money.

If regular $500 saliva tests and $50 per month pills for a chance at longevity seem appealing, then this is your chance to make it to 2154. If you join their affiliate program, you can also make 12 percent commission on sales.

Should we even want to live longer, if we don’t address the biological age of our planet first? If you flush a bunch of these pills down the toilet, will they help heal the Earth? Like Basis’s efficacy with humans, the results here are currently inconclusive.

If you’re simply interested in your chronological age, there are some very exciting and affordable products on the market. Elysium Health links to one cloud-based chronological age calculator, no spit required.

Tagged:
NAD+
(anti) aging
elysium health