Encouraging 'retired' eye cells to hit the road

A new collaboration aims to tackle age-related disease including glaucoma


The glaucoma patient’s eyes are harbouring a number of unwanted guests – ‘retired’ cells that are bothering their neighbours and causing age-related inflammatory problems.

Biopharmaceutical experts call these cells ‘senescent.’ Every new cell has an emergency break that will one day stop it dividing to create daughter cells, as a protection against cancer. Once this break is pulled – once the cell is senescent – these ‘retirees’ hang around in the body, negatively affecting the cells around them and causing inflammation.

This process is thought to be a driving force in glaucoma, as well as other age-related ailments such as osteoarthritis and kidney disease.

Medical scientists are therefore trying to develop drugs that encourage the senescent cells, and the senescent cells only, to leave the body.

A biopharmaceutical company, San Francisco-based Unity Biotechnology, has been working on achieving such a feat for four years.

Now, with some promising results, they have teamed up with Chinese company Ascentage Pharma, to develop, test and commercialise drugs targeting senescence.

Previously, Unity has shown that medications given to animals to clear senescent cells from the body were able to prevent and even reverse glaucoma, osteoarthristis and a number of other age-related conditions.

Unity founder, Dr Nathaniel David, said that a number of compounds that Ascentage held the rights to look even more promising as treatments for these illnesses.

He explained: “Ascentage’s compounds are some of the best we’ve seen. Access to their compound library through this collaboration will significantly accelerate our efforts to develop drugs to improve healthspan by halting or reversing several age-related diseases.”