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This transcript has been prepared by a source external to the Department of the Parliamentary Library.

 

It may not have been checked against the broadcast or in any other way. Freedom from error, omissions or misunderstandings cannot be guaranteed.

 

For the purposes of quoting verbatim from a transcript, it is advisable to verify the transcript against the broadcast.

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Background Briefing

 

Sunday 9 October 2005

Getting older, getting cosmeceuticals

 

[Tolling bell ... song: 'I’m Not Dead Yet'] 

 

Stan Correy: The baby boomers are fighting back. They will not go gentle into that good night, will not even accept the twilight years. 

 

Not dead, but ageing, and still needing housing, food, good health care and demanding that they look and feel good much longer. 

 

Hello, this is Background Briefing . I’m Stan Correy. 

 

[Anti Aging and Biotech Conference actuality] 

 

Voice-over: The anti-ageing marketplace is projected to be a $50-billion industry by 2005. 

 

Conference participant: Just look around, every country on the planet, every state in the nation is here trying to draw attention to their offerings that they have for biotech companies … 

 

Conference participant: What’s great, what’s happening here is there’s research and technology that is targeting treatments … 

 

Stan Correy: Medical researchers, biotech, pharmaceutical and cosmetic companies are all caught up in the push to give the punter what they want: cures for diseases and eternal good looks. 

 

Voice-over: There’s a revolution in health care, the anti-ageing revolution, and it’s changing the way that medicine’s being practiced all around the world. 

 

Conference participant: This is probably the most rapidly growing sector on the planet. 

 

Conference participant: I’m here to learn more about taking it from the laboratory to the marketplace. 

 

Conference participant: It’s a chance for people to … 

 

Stan Correy: And as you’ll hear, even in Australia, companies are rushing to cash in on this trend. 

 

This is the anti-ageing movement, and they’re causing the gerontologists, the scientists, who study ageing, to pull out what’s left of their hair. The anti-agers want to help us live longer and better and perhaps make some money out of it. The Bio-gerontologists want to caution us against unreal expectations. And in between, studying both groups, are the anthropologists. 

 

Courtney Everts Myktyn: It spans so many different groups and diverse parties from the cosmetological side of things to biogerontologists, to anti-ageing practitioners, to pharmaceutical and nutriceutical companies, to start up biotech firms. 

 

Stan Correy: Courtney Everts Myktyn has been studying the anti-ageing movement for many years at the University of Southern California. 

 

Courtney Everts Myktyn: There’s just such a huge range of people who are involved, and it seems to me that the main thread that binds all of these groups together is this idea that we need to change how we think about what it means to age. That we could do something biological to intervene on ageing, and it no longer is relevant whether ageing is considered to be natural or not. 

 

Stan Correy: Here in Australia, at the Centre for Education and Research on Ageing at Sydney University, Professor David Le Couteur warns of being sidetracked. 

 

David Le Couteur: Anti-ageing medicine is best viewed as a pseudo-science whose sole aim is to make large profits for people that sell their anti-ageing medicines. Many of the anti-ageing medicines are based on extrapolations or plausible interpretations of what’s known about the biology of ageing, but at this point in time, scientists around the world can categorically say that there is no pill or potion that will prolong life expectancy. So most of those anti-ageing medicines and longevity extension medicines are snake oil issues. For example, Francis Bacon, the great philosopher, believed that if you inhaled the breath of virgins that would make you live longer. Brown Sequard a very famous neurologist, believed that if you injected yourself with a mixture of pig and dog testicles, that would make you live longer. Nobel prize winners like Linus Pauling suggested taking vitamin C would make you live longer. 

 

Stan Correy: That doesn’t mean you give up, says David Le Couteur. There are just other more sensible things to do. 

 

David Le Couteur: One is, don’t smoke. Two is, don’t smoke. Three is, lose weight. Four is, exercise. And five is to all of those standard things that your general practitioner will tell you: treat your blood pressure, treat your cholesterol, look after your bones, and have your various disease-screening processes done. They’re simple bits of advice but for every individual, those things do much more to make your life expectancy longer than any of the anti-ageing potions. 

 

Stan Correy: All this is just commonsense, and nothing wrong with that, but the anti-ageing movement says it lacks imagination and it ignores the right to dream. 

 

Earlier this year at the University of Pennsylvania’s Institute on Aging there was a conference about the art and science of ageing therapies. Bioethicist Arthur Caplan admitted the anti-agers have a bad record. 

 

Arthur Caplan: There’s a history around living longer that is suspect. It’s full of hype and hucksterism and false hopes; after all, who can forget the glorious history of monkey gland injections, those famous yoghurt diets that kept people in the Caucasus alive to 130, 140, maybe; hormone replacement and one of my favourite technologies, frozen heads, so that you can sort of popsicle yourself into eternity. Well they may be true, there are lots of quacks around in the anti-ageing and pro-life extension area, but so what? There are lots of quacks around in the cancer area; there are lots of quacks around in many areas of life. It doesn’t show because there are people promoting or playing on people’s desire to live longer with false remedies, that the whole idea of living longer was a bad thing. 

 

Stan Correy: Arthur Caplan pointed out there may even be a connection between looking good and feeling good and living longer. 

 

Arthur Caplan: There are people who worry that if we try to bleach our teeth, laser our eyeballs, fill in our skin, laser our skin, repair our nose, augment our breasts, engage in activities that might even enhance and improve our cognitive functions, that we’re doing something immoral, that this is not the right way to live, it is not the right way to pursue health care in this country, or in for that matter, consumer products that are related to this. It’s one thing to try and repair damage from something like Alzheimer’s, it’s a very different thing to say, according to some of these critics, that ‘I’m going to spend resources trying to make myself look better, or live longer than my four score and ten, that I’m allotted either by nature or by the deity.’ 

 

Stan Correy: Defying nature and the deity as we age, isn’t something new, we’ve been doing it for centuries, and this was also pointed out by another speaker from the American Alliance for Aging Research, a powerful lobby group in Washington. Daniel Perry. 

 

Daniel Perry: And in fact for most of modern history until 150 years or so ago, ageing was a reward that came to very few, and mostly because they had lived a good and righteous life. And the reward was that you spent a very short period of time passing on your pearls of wisdom to the next generations, you took it easy, you were in repose, you were in retreat from the rest of society and as I say, only a lucky few got to that, but essentially it was sort of God’s waiting room, you were getting ready to move on from there. 

 

[Tolling bell...] 

 

Daniel Perry: By real contrast, the gigantic baby boom generation is determined to continue to be active, engaged, it is economically the most powerful aged cohort when they begin to turn 60 and 65 in a very short period of time. They are politically powerful and they are determined that just as the baby boomers reinvented childhood, adolescence and other times of life, that old age will never be the same once they’ve had a chance to go through it. 

 

Stan Correy: Daniel Perry, executive director of the American Alliance for Aging Research. He also made reference to a recent study by the Rand Institute on Health and Spending of the Future Elderly. And the Rand Report concludes, the biggest blowout will be in the various treatments for those illnesses. 

 

One of the questions the Rand Institute looked at was what would happen if a hypothetical anti-ageing pill came into being. One scenario is that people live longer and are healthy; the other is they just live longer. Here’s an edited reading from their report. 

 

Reader: Under our healthy scenario, it would increase health care spending by 14% in 2030, despite relatively little increase in morbidity and disability. Under the less optimistic scenario that the pill keeps people alive but increases disease and disability, the consequences are enormous. Total health care spending would be 70% higher than under the status quo, since there would be more elderly people, and people would incur disease and disability at older ages. 

 

Stan Correy: In this tension, between what citizens want and what governments feel they can pay for, sit the decision makers. Who decides? The medical researchers or the government, or religious bodies? Is it left to the market? To consumer lobby groups? To an idea that the best medical care should be available to everyone? 

 

And there are pharmaceutical companies. Professor David Le Couteur is director of the Centre for Education and Research on Ageing at Sydney University. 

 

David Le Couteur: The large pharmaceutical companies, which are huge multinational billion-dollar companies, have moved out of doing early phase drug development and really only start to develop drugs when there’s a short-term horizon in the order of three to five years. So any drug that looks like it’s going to be a genuine therapeutic advance is taken up by the big companies at that point. So most of the early-phase drug development is being done now by small start-up, often biotech companies, and these are high risk companies, analogous to the gold and mining exploration companies of decades gone by. 

 

So that’s one force. On the other hand there’s a competing force which is the fact that the universities now are being forced to consider themselves as being economic entities whose role is to generate profit rather than education and research that benefits society. So there is enormous pressure on scientists on all areas to be involved in some aspect of commercialisation of whatever they’re doing research in, and it’s the pressure on these scientists that is probably fuelling the start-up companies as well. So you’re getting a meeting of the two forces: the academics that are being forced to be shown to be commercialising their products, and small start-up companies that are wanting to look like they’ve got a product, or want to convince the share market that they’ve got a product. 

 

Stan Correy: And if that product is for age-related disease, then there are special problems for biopharmaceutical companies who are trying to develop new treatments. Professor David Le Couteur: 

 

David Le Couteur: The companies working on age-related diseases are a very big area simply because that’s a huge market. Ageing is the major risk factor for every disease that you can think of: heart disease, bone disease, cancer, diabetes, dementia, the lot. So obviously, if you want to produce a product for a big market, you’ve got to be producing drugs for diseases of older people. The big problem with drug development in older people however, is that the drugs are tested on middle aged people, people in their 50s and 60s, and then used often with considerable problems in terms of side effects, in much older people who can’t tolerate the medications nearly as well. 

 

Stan Correy: That’s very interesting, so you say there are particular factors in dealing with drug development for older people? 

 

David Le Couteur: Very much so. The risk of side effects of medications increases exponentially as you get older. The probable cause of the diseases, the underlying mechanism for the diseases changes as you get older. Yet much older people, and I’m talking people in their late 70s and 80s and 90s, are the ones that have all the disease and are by far and away where the medications are used the most. And what I can tell you is that information on their usefulness in those age groups is almost non-existent, yet information on the harm caused by those medications is well established. So we really have a major problem here that drug development is done in younger adults, the market is in much older people and these people are often being harmed by the inappropriate use of drugs in these groups, and I think they’re being exploited. 

 

[Song: 'Not Yet Dead'] 

 

Stan Correy: ‘Not Yet Dead’ is from the new Monty Python musical Spamalot , now showing in New York. 

 

The Australian Stock Exchange is concerned about how biotech companies describe themselves before going to the market.  

 

The ASX has published a draft code of best practice for companies wanting to list on the ASX. One of the members of the committee working on the code is David Blake, who is also the editor of Bioshares , a subscription newsletter that covers what investors often call the Life Sciences sector.  

 

David Blake: I expect that there’ll be some university media department that does talk about a potential cure for something, and when you get down to the potential cure for this disease or that disease, and it gets on the media, it’s on the News at 7pm or 6pm - what happens then is that people are generally led into a set of unrealistic expectations about what medical science can do. And I don’t think it helps anybody when there’s no mention of the complex and expensive steps and risky steps that have to be undertaken before any product will get to market. There’s no caveat that’s put on these programs about medical discoveries. Now it’s great short-term gain for a university and a bunch of researchers, but it’s absolutely self-defeating for people who really will benefit from medical discoveries that are turned into products that help and assist people with diseases and medical conditions. And maybe in the same way that we used to have advertisements for cigarettes and other noxious things, and then warnings were brought after that, maybe that type of thing could be considered as appropriate for the next time we see some news about a great discovery made by an Australian scientist, when it’s attempted to be connected as an unthought-of and un-packaged, or unfinished, or unspecified human therapeutic product. 

 

Stan Correy: One company that’s recently floated on the Australian Stock Exchange is Apollo Life Sciences. In July, David Blake did an analysts’ report on Apollo and in the newsletter, he dubbed the company ‘a cause for concern’. 

 

Here in part is how Apollo Life Sciences describes itself in its prospectus. 

 

Reader: Apollo is a biopharmaceutical company committed to creating, manufacturing and marketing next generation therapeutics based on human proteins, to protect and improve human health. These advanced proteins are used to treat a wide range of disorders associated with disease and ageing. 

 

Stan Correy: As we’ve heard, it takes time for clinical trials to test new drugs, especially if they relate to the elderly. So Apollo has, according to its prospectus - 

 

Reader: … early paths to cash. Product sales from the R&D reagents market and anti-ageing cosmetics treatments can commence earlier than therapeutics because - 

 

Stan Correy: There are - 

 

Reader: ...no regulatory requirements for R&D reagents - 

 

Stan Correy: And because there are - 

 

Reader: ...shorter regulatory approval and trial processes for over-the-counter, anti-ageing and cosmetics treatments. 

 

Stan Correy: After the float of Apollo Life Sciences, biotech analyst David Blake took a closer look at the IPO, or Initial Public Offering. 

 

David Blake: I think our title that we gave to our analysis on Apollo Life Sciences was somewhat incorrect. Rather than being ‘cause for concern’, it would be more accurate to say ‘many causes for concern’. A polite way of putting it is to say it was an unusual IPO, their areas that they claim to be working in are psoriasis, hepatitis-C, rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, and neuro protection, and there are companies that just have [listed] on the ASX that are focused on neuro-protection alone, Alzheimer’s disease alone. 

 

Stan Correy: David Blake said that for a company to develop products that target so many diseases - rings alarm bells. 

 

David Blake: Companies in the area of biotech and pharma, if they’re involved in more than, say, three diseases, you know that they are probably going to be stretching themselves to a great degree. That is, if their business model is to do some early stage development and then farm it out, that might be acceptable, but Apollo Life Sciences doesn’t give you, through its prospectus, any indication that it’s got a command of drug development or even drug discovery in any particular area at all, and you really want to be looking for companies that show that they have a grasp of the disease area that they’re working on. 

 

Stan Correy: Apollo’s prospectus talked of early paths to cash, especially in areas like anti-ageing cosmetics, where they said, they’d have products ready in early 2006. David Blake. 

 

David Blake: If you’re generating sales in 12 months, well your product would have to have had regulatory approvals, would have to have had sales and marketing or arrangements set up already for it to occur within 12 months, and this company’s got nothing that I could see in place to say that it’s ready to generate revenues. But generally speaking, for a company that’s doing an IPO to be that confident of saying they’re going to get revenues within 12 months, with no clear sign of their commercialisation capability within the firm, and this is a firm that’s got, as I recollect, no seasoned biotech or pharma skills base in the company, I’d be very surprised if they delivered significant revenues within 12 months of the listing. 

 

Stan Correy: Off the record, other industry analysts confirmed David Blake’s critique. In his article David Blake listed many questions he said, that needed to be asked. One was a need for more information about the therapeutic proteins that were being developed, using what Apollo calls its ‘human expression system’. 

 

He also thinks that Apollo should mention that the core patent for the system was previously owned by a company called Fucell, a company that failed to live up to expectations. 

 

David Blake: That company in the realm of biotech in Australia, obviously never got anywhere. Plenty of venture capitalists would have looked at it, I think it was even funded by a venture capitalist for a long time, and I don’t know the reasons why that technology didn’t progress, but if it didn’t progress there could very well have been very pertinent, sensible reasons for other parties in other years to not progress it. And I find it fascinating that it’s been given a second chance, another go at it. 

 

Stan Correy: Fucell as a company may not have got anywhere, but it did have its moment in the sun. In February 2001, one of the directors of Fucell, Mr Pat Clear, a pharmaceutical industry heavyweight, got caught up in political controversy. Here’s a report from ABC Radio’s PM program at the time: 

 

[Archive segment] :  

Shane McLeod: The company in question is Fucell, an unlisted biotechnology concern based at the University of New South Wales. And Mr Clear came on board as non-executive director in 1998. Fucell’s chairman is John Priest. 

 

John Priest: Fucell is an early-stage biotechnology company specialising in the development of human antibodies and growth factors outside the body. Fucell is at its very early stage and it’s products at this stage, it does not have commercial products available for sale. And in fact its products are at a very early stage and will require at least four to six years of testing to gain the necessary FDA approvals and other things that are required before anything would be available to the public. 

 

Shane McLeod: But down the path, would you eventually look to sell your products or technologies to drug companies? 

 

John Priest: On the assumption that our products are successful, then we may have something available for sale to the public. But it’s a long way off, and there’s a lot of risk and discovery and scientific research to be done between now and then. [End of archive segment]  

 

Stan Correy: John Priest, who was then chairman of Fucell. Now John Priest is chairman and CEO of Apollo Life Sciences. We asked Apollo Life Sciences for an interview to respond to David Blake’s report on his company. 

 

It’s important to remember here what Apollo produces or is hoping to produce. Human therapeutic proteins for use in treatment of diseases and cosmetics and reagents. Reagents are chemical substances used for biopharmaceutical processing. Most therapeutic proteins are produced in bacteria, like E-coli or the cells of rodents, specifically the Chinese Hamster. 

 

Apollo’s secret is, it produces its proteins from human cells. 

 

Apollo says that it has the scientific and management expertise to develop therapeutic proteins in a way that other drug companies can’t. 

 

A little earlier you heard biotech analyst David Blake, who’s a specialist in biopharmaceutical companies, say that Apollo’s prospectus was not specific about its products. CEO of Apollo Life Sciences, John Priest. 

 

John Priest: I have no idea what they’re talking about . We’ve produced a prospectus that has been through all the rigorous controls that the ASX and the authorities put on these things. We’ve had independent review compare our prospectuses to others out there. We’ve been very fulsome in our disclosure, but if they want us to tell them exactly the recipe that we’re using, or the processes we’re using which are trade secrets, then I don’t think our shareholders would thank anyone very much if we’re going to actually disclose that. 

 

What we are disclosing is clearly where our products fit in the scale of things, where our products are different, the benefits in terms of fewer side effects, better efficacy and longer half-life, that’s been well documented by researchers for years, in around human expression systems. The difficulty is that it’s hard to do. We don’t believe it’s that hard to do, we are doing it, we are supplying a market, we’re generating cash from that market which we are going to invest in developing the markets and bringing other products to other markets. 

 

Stan Correy: David Blake does mention in his report that there is a whole range of other competitors, you kind of mention there is competition.  

 

John Priest: There’s no-one else producing human expression systems in the world. There are people producing proteins expressed from bacteria, and rodent systems, they are our competitor systems and we go to some length in the prospectus to talk about our competitors and how they perform, and what they do and the benefits and advantages and disadvantages of us versus them. I don’t know where Mr Blake gets his view from, but if he’d like to reconsider Page 17 of the prospectus, and the following half a dozen pages, then it’s clearly put out there. 

 

Stan Correy: Another criticism of the Apollo prospectus was that it should have mentioned that one of its core patents belonged originally to a company that failed to live up to expectations, Fucell. John Priest. 

 

John Priest: Well that’s not true, that’s totally incorrect. Yes, we acquired Fucell as we did acquire other technologies, as we’ve developed Apollo Life Sciences. Apollo Life Sciences hasn’t sort of been spun out of a university, as is technical for these things. Apollo Life Sciences has been run by businesspeople focusing on particular market segments and focusing on collecting technologies that are applicable. 

 

Stan Correy: But didn’t it come out of Fucell? I mean you were involved with Fucell. 

 

John Priest: Yes, but there are also many other companies as well. We took over Fucell. The Fucell patents, sure, are still valuable, but they’re nothing to do with what we’re doing today. Fucell patents are in and around producing human expression systems, which is nearly related, but it’s not exactly what we’re doing today. 

 

Stan Correy: So David Blake’s wrong to point out the kind of Fucell as the - as the antecedent ? 

 

John Priest: Absolutely. What’s important is the - not the process, what’s important is the proteins and their application to diseases. 

 

Stan Correy: The Apollo prospectus lists a range of several diseases, from diabetes to psoriasis, to Alzheimer’s, for which it wants to develop treatments. David Blake has commented in his report that there are too many, and this is a sign of weakness in their business model. Being a new biotech company, Blake thinks they’ve underestimated the difficulties of producing therapeutic proteins and overestimated their prospects for generating revenues. On the contrary, says John Priest, Apollo will make money by first producing products like reagents and anti-ageing cosmetics, to raise cash for the longer-term therapeutic lines. And their business model may be different from other drug discovery companies, but that doesn’t mean it can’t work. Many companies that have failed in the past, says John Priest, have been too dependent on one product. 

 

John Priest: We’re a public company, we have to make continuous disclosure if we change our view of the world. Currently we’re on track to produce our cosmetic anti-ageing products at the beginning of this year, we’re currently in early sales process in the R&D reagents market, we’ll ramp that up between now and the end of the year. And our product development in relation to the cosmetic anti-ageing product is on track, and we’re very excited by the opportunity. We have, we believe, some exciting products in the skin rejuvenation and the hair regrowth area; in particular our in vitro and in vivo trials are showing really good results. And so far we’re on track. 

 

Stan Correy: John Priest, CEO of Apollo Life Sciences. 

 

As a biopharmaceutical company, Apollo may be unique in its production of human therapeutic proteins, but throughout the biopharmaceutical industry, there are more companies than ever heading into the area of anti-ageing cosmetics. 

 

[Biotech conference actuality...] 

Conference participant: This is the biggest and the best bioconvention in our 12-year history. This year we’re hosting 18,000 attendees from 50 states and more than 60 countries. 

 

Stan Correy: In the blogosphere, the websites, the seminars and reports, the jargon seems to have a long life of its own. There are words like trans-humanism, life extension, strategies for engineering negligible senescence, compressed morbidity, decelerated ageing and arrested ageing. And at the conferences it’s increasingly bio meets the ageing, or anti-ageing beauty. 

[Biotech conference actuality...]  

 

Voice over: What can we do to make the world a better place? What new technologies might emerge? When will the biotech industry make a nett profit? 

 

Conference participant : It’s an interesting question, and I wish I could predict the future, and frankly, in the business we’re in, that’s what we try to do, is predict the future. 

 

[Anti Ageing video]  

Voice over: There’s a revolution in health care, the anti-ageing revolution, and it’s changing the way that medicine’s being practised, all around the world. Over 60% of all Americans aged 65 and over are currently pursuing anti-ageing interventions. New anti-ageing technologies and treatments are being developed for every discipline of medicine. In fact, there are over 785 medications in development today that are specifically designed to lengthen and improve quality of life. The anti-ageing marketplace is projected to be a $50-billion industry by 2005. 

 

Stan Correy: The mainstream medical world is looking askance at some of the claims in advertising by the anti-ageing groups. It’s wasting money, they say, that could be put into serious research that will genuinely help people. In counter-attacks, these scientific conservatives are accused of having not enough imagination, and not understanding the power of hope. 

 

The complexity of the whole field, the overlaps between the various groups where hope meets science and science meets snake oil, is a dynamic field. There are members of the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine in Australia, and they attend conferences in the region. Last month there was one in Bali, attended by Bill Anton. 

 

Bill Anton: It started basically because looking at not only the dissatisfaction, but in a way it started looking at the holistic aspect of medicine. It started looking at the ultimate in preventative medicine. What we’re really looking at is a process of regenerative and restorative medicine, an anti-inflammatory process of the body. It started because not only from the medical fraternity itself, but also the media started promoting aspects of anti-ageing. Now the term anti-ageing as such is a little bit of a euphemism, but what else could you call it? I mean there are other synonyms for it out there such as longevity medicines, successful ageing, health ageing, optimal ageing, age-management. As such, unfortunately, we are governed by marketing forces, and marketing forces would prevail and therefore the term coined as anti-ageing medicine is by far the most popular one. 

 

Stan Correy: The critics of Bill Anton’s position say all this is rhetoric, with little sound research to back it up. But Anton isn’t worried. 

 

Bill Anton: Well it’s interesting that for many years people start knocking you and criticising you and then ultimately they start emulating and copying and call it their own ideas, and we see that throughout most aspects of medicine over the years. Now the key thing is we’re talking anti-ageing medicine, which is very different to gerontology. You have gerontology at this point in time, which really studies the disciplines of the ageing processes and ways of improving one’s quality of life, and the statistics relative to welfare and age disease management, whereas with anti-ageing, we’re really focusing on how to prevent us from getting to that stage. You see for us, a successful anti-ageing practice would be one where you’re treating the patients for optimum health, getting to their life innings, or the pre-programming of their life span in a healthy, vibrant manner. It’s not necessarily about giving extension of life so much as it is about quality of life. And of course, if you can improve on the quality, it follows that extension should follow beyond that point as well. 

 

Stan Correy: Bill Anton, who runs life source clinics in Melbourne, where you can get advice on complementary medicine, diet and hormone therapy. Bill Anton would not go so far as to say he can prevent ageing, but maybe slow the signs of it down a little. 

 

[Bell tolling...] 

 

Stan Correy: The ABC Radio National program Encounter recently had a look at the ageing phenomenon in the context of what it means in the study of religion. One of the speakers was a leading anti-ageing guru, Aubrey de Gray. 

 

Aubrey de Grey: I think really the thing that has preoccupied humans throughout civilisation is not death, but rather ageing. People accept that accidents happen, you know, you get eaten by a sabre-toothed tiger if you’re not paying attention. But people have been less willing to accept that death should be forced on us at a particular age by this gradual biological decay, that we see happening to us and to our parents and our loved ones as they get older. So I think it’s dangerous to use the word ‘immortality’ to describe what we have been dreaming of and thinking of. What we have been dreaming of and thinking of is control over our lives, such that we may still die, but not at a schedule that was defined by nature, rather a schedule of our own choosing, depending on how riskily we choose to live. 

 

Stan Correy: Aubrey de Grey is a biogerontologist from Cambridge University. He compares our ageing bodies to rusting cars. All we need is the technology to remove the rust. 

 

Aubrey de Grey: My hope is that within the next 25 or 30 years, where we’ll be able to develop technologies that can be applied to people who are already in middle age, let’s say already 60 years old, and give them an extra, let’s say 30 years of healthy life, by effectively doing maintenance on them, in the same way that one does maintenance to get of the rust on a car. So in other words, rejuvenating them at the molecular and cellular level, to restore them to something that is effectively a younger biological age. Now that does not remove ageing from these people, these people are still ageing just the same way that a car carries on getting more rust after you took off the last amount of rust. But it postpones the time at which the amount of ageing becomes critical for function and starts to cause age-related diseases and so on. 

 

Stan Correy: As well, Encounter had comments from another gerontologist at the University of Illinois in Chicago. He says it’s all snake oil. Jay Olshansky. 

 

Jay Olshansky: The power of telling people what they want to hear, giving them hope, that we can conquer ageing, that it’s just the disease that we’re right on the verge of making this breakthrough, just to realise that’s the very message that has been conveyed by people who’ve been selling anti-ageing products to the kings of their time, and the public of their time for thousands of years, so there’s nothing new in that message, the message of hope. And I understand why people want to cling to that. I, just as a scientist, I’m certainly not willing to accept the extraordinary claims of ridiculous life expectancies in the absence of scientific evidence to support it. We’re scientists, we’re not supposed to announce the results of our research before it’s in. It’s nice to fantasise about being immortal, but in the real world where you and I live, we have to deal with the basic problems associated with growing older and the basic biology that we’ve inherited and until we conquer that, I wouldn’t be talking about living to 1,000 or 5,000 years or being immortal. 

 

Stan Correy: Jay Olshansky and a colleague are in the court now, being sued by the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine, or A4M, because they awarded them the Silver Fleece, a bottle of snake oil. A4M says this award caused several of their businesses to lose contracts. The case is still in the courts. 

 

[Cosmetics Ad 1]

Why wait? Rewind the years instantly with new Instant Age Rewind Foundation by Maybelline, New York. Make up that makes you look years younger, like that. Four out of five women saw results instantly. Look, blends beautifully, firms instantly, it’s got caffeine in it. 

 

[Cosmetics Ad 2]

Complete anti-ageing moisturiser enriched with pro-retinol, hydrates the skin for 24 hours, revitalises and firms the appearance of the skin. New med expert Vitalift from L’Oreal, Paris, innovative skincare for men. 

 

Stan Correy: The really big end of the anti-ageing business is cosmetics. And the trend here is cosmeceuticals, a half-way house between just plain old face cream or moisturiser, and a pharmaceutical. They advertise they are laced with all sorts of vitamins, or protein, or collagen, or various other substances which will rejuvenate, regenerate, revitalise, take 10 years off, or five years off, or whatever.  

 

No-one seems to mind that there’s little hard evidence about exactly how much of exactly what is in these creams. They don’t have to be regulated, and that’s part of the attraction. It’s one reason that small, and now even bigger pharmaceutical companies, are getting into cosmetics. It’s sort of a half-way house, a place where you can make money, without the big costs of years of research and stringent trialling. And late last month in New York, a good mix of those companies attended the personal care ingredients and technology Expo. 

 

Here’s a reading from one of the presentations. 

 

Presentation 1 :  

A global anti-wrinkle approach, concerted action on the dermis and the dermo, epidermal junction. For a comprehensive anti-wrinkle strategy, it is no longer enough to work only on the quality of the dermis and epidermis. The cohesion between both layers must also be maintained via action on the dermo epidermal junction, DEJ. A natural solution has been developed that both protects the DEJ and strengthens the structure of the dermis. 

 

Stan Correy: And a presentation about one of the hottest trends, nanoparticles. 

 

Presentation 2 :  

Nanovectors in cosmetology past, present and future in active compound delivery. Future technologies of delivery are hybrid encapsulation systems that allow using the membrane fluidity of liposomes, while using cage molecules able to encapsulate active compounds on a molecular basis. This new hybrid system will then be able to be chemically surface-modified to allow nanoparticles targeting, and the third generation of vector will then be introduced in smart delivery systems for the cosmetic market. 

 

Stan Correy: Last year, global skincare products were valued at about $US50 billion. Most are sold by people in white coats at department stores or beauty shop counters. But dermatologists are also on the front line, and constantly inundated with marketing material. Here in Sydney at the practice of Dr Tanya Gilmour. 

 

Tanya Gilmour: I bought you this. This is what we received in the mail the other day.  

 

Stan Correy: Oh, right. 

 

Tanya Gilmour: This is something - I was asked to do this talk in an article about wrinkling earlier in the year. I didn’t even know that that cream was going to be in there. We just receive different information all the time. 

 

Stan Correy: Right. So in a way it’s not only from pharmaceutical companies, you get it from the cosmetic companies as well. And was that an Australian company? 

 

Tanya Gilmour: Well this one actually has a study, which most of them don’t do, but this one I received in the mail. 

 

Stan Correy: Do you get much of this in the mail? 

 

Tanya Gilmour: Certainly a lot of different creams. You also have different conferences, you were mentioning before in New York or in the States, a number of different conferences on cosmetics and anti-ageing, certainly we get faxes through and different mail invitations for new creams, new innovations quite regularly. 

 

Stan Correy: And can you test any of them? 

 

Tanya Gilmour: Well I guess you could. Have I ventured into that yet? There’s so many of them it’s difficult to know where to start, I guess.  

 

Stan Correy: You would have assumed that they would have tested it, rather than asking you to check it out on your patients. 

 

Tanya Gilmour: That’s true.  

 

Stan Correy: It’s not surprising that cosmetic companies target dermatologists. Many of these products exist in a zone that regulators call a grey area, cosmeceuticals, products that are not quite drugs, but also not quite just cosmetics. 

 

Tanya Gilmour: Well to me the impression ‘cosmeceutical’, it’s a cosmetic but it’s got that extra oomph to it, you know, it is something that you’re doing that’s a little bit better than just buying a cosmetic. So to me, it comes more across as a marketing phrase, and it’s almost like having a paramedical, parapharmaceutical side to these creams, which make the consumer think maybe they are getting more for their money, they’re getting something more effective, if you like. 

 

Stan Correy: There’s also that other regulatory thing, isn’t it, that cosmetics, unless they actually claim to have some therapeutic benefit, they’re not as strongly regulated over-the-counter medicine, so they don’t have those strict controls. But in fact there is this impression that there is some scientific proof attached to them. 

 

Tanya Gilmour: I think that’s a difficulty with the public buying these creams, in that certainly most creams that have a high effectiveness for changing the skin structure, often require a script, and anything that’s going to alter things dramatically often needs strict TGA approval, whereas the cosmetics do not require this, and therefore are available over the counter. So I guess the question has to then trigger in one’s mind, well how effective is this cream I’m able to buy over the counter with a script from a doctor? So, yes. 

 

Stan Correy: Adding a few scientific buzzwords to cosmetics labels is a worrying trend for regulators and scientists. The world’s largest cosmetics company is L’Oreal. Recently, Britain’s Royal Society and the US Food and Drug Administration, the FDA, highlight L’Oreal’s use of nanoparticles in one of its face creams. 

 

The FDA was quoted in the London Times in July: 

 

Reader: Very little is known about the interaction of nano-scale particles and the skin. We need urgent research to assess the safety and we are hoping to get some answers soon. 

 

Tanya Gilmour: With regards to the comment on L’Oreal with the nanoparticles, certainly to go across this skin barrier, so the junction between the outside of the skin and the dermis, that’s structural scaffolding, you do require smaller particles to have a delivery system there. So certainly what’s written there sounds feasible in that they may be able to deliver the particles to the site of action. The next question you have to ask is at the site of action, once it’s got there, what effect is it having? So yes, the nanoparticles sound promising, you’d want to see data on it, and secondly, what are we delivering there, and what is that effect going to have there? 

 

Stan Correy: And I suppose the question as the article was discussing, there was this competition and there’s a reluctance to talk about what they’ve got, because they don’t want the competition to get onto what they’ve got. 

 

Tanya Gilmour: Absolutely. I mean the pharmaceutical companies fought with that, even with treating disease and different molecules for treating different disease states, you know, it’s very much closed doors, and patents that have a certain life span, so they can then recoup the cost. I mean I guess one has to remember that researching all these chemicals and delivery systems is actually a very expensive business. And that goes for formulating therapeutic medicines even more so, because there are stages of clinical trials that they have to go through before it’s delivered to the public.  

 

It would appear that it’s not quite as stringent for this cosmeceutical industry, they don’t go through so many safety checks, it would appear from the surface. 

 

Stan Correy: Part of the attraction of anti-ageing cosmeceuticals is the scientific gloss. That can be achieved with a few words on a label, but there’s another trend emerging in the anti-ageing cosmetics market. It was played out in the media in Boston last month. 

 

A journalist for The Boston Globe , Christopher Rowland, stumbled on to a dermatologist who was promoting his anti-ageing cosmetics in his surgery. 

 

Christopher Rowland: Well it does seem that there’s always been blurring of the lines sometimes between the business interests of physicians and big pharmaceutical companies and I guess there was certainly a similar phenomenon here, where you have high profile dermatologists who have strong links to major teaching universities profiting from their relationship in the development and sale of the so-called cosmeceuticals.  

 

There are definitely some parallels. I guess where the analogy breaks down though is that it takes ten years to get a pharmaceutical onto the market, there’s lots more room for wheeling, dealing and rapid-fire development here, because in the case of one doctor and drugstore chain that I wrote about, it only took them about six months to develop an entire line of wrinkle creams. So they can get the medical seal of approval on there fast, and get it to market really quickly. 

 

Stan Correy: The skincare doctor that Christopher Rowland wrote about was Dr Jeffrey Dover, an associate clinical Professor Dermatology at Yale University School of Medicine. 

 

He told Rowland that he saw no problem with advising his patients to buy his wrinkle relaxing cream. Time magazine also reported last month of other dermatologists also getting into the skincare business. And according to Rowland, the cosmetic companies see this as a market opportunity. 

 

Christopher Rowland: What’s happened now is that big cosmetics companies like Estee Lauder and several others have detected a great market opportunity here developing these sort of doctor-branded lines where they use the doctor’s credibility and reputation, sort of the imprimatur of medical science onto basically a cosmetic. So now with the entry of these big players, it’s starting to really take off at a much more rapid rate of growth. 

 

Stan Correy: Until recently, cosmeceuticals were largely manufactured by small pharmaceutical companies, but that’s beginning to change. Last month, a KPMG analysis of the industry had the headline: 

 

Reader: Beauty meets big pharma, the emerging cosmeceuticals business. 

 

[Song: ‘Not Dead Yet’]. 

 

Stan Correy: You’ve been listening to Background Briefing . Coordinating producer, Linda McGinness; Research and Website, Jason Di Rosso; Technical Operator, Stephen Tilley. The track ‘Not Dead Yet’ is from the new Monty Python musical Spamalot , now showing in New York. The Executive Producer of Background Briefing is Kirsten Garrett. 

 

Man: Here’s one. 

 

Man: I’m not dead. 

 

Man: ‘Ere, he says he’s not dead. 

 

Man: Yes he is. 

 

Man: I feel happy. I feel happy.