Buying Time review: Podcast explores an attempt to 'cure' ageing

Has anyone listed to this new podcast yet? Any opinions?

The New Scientist magazine had this to say:

A suspense-filled new podcast series digs into biotech firm BioViva’s claim that it successfully injected someone with experimental, anti-ageing gene therapies

Audible Original, from 27 April

IS IT possible to reverse ageing? In 2015, Seattle-based biotech company BioViva announced it had injected someone with experimental, anti-ageing gene therapies at a secret location outside the US. It later declared that the trial was successful and that changes to the individual’s white blood cells were equivalent to winding the clock back 20 years.

But BioViva’s claims left a lot to the imagination, from the identity of the patient to what dose had been given, which drove Swain to investigate them in the six-part series.

Gene therapies themselves – techniques that treat a condition by modifying a person’s genes – are still in their infancy and only a few have been approved to target certain types of cancer and rare diseases. Furthermore, BioViva’s experiment was controversial, as the firm didn’t do the pre-clinical work that is required for a human trial to be permitted in the US.

However, Elizabeth Parrish, the company’s CEO, seemed confident and personable. She had also recruited an impressive team of scientific advisers, including George Church, a pioneering geneticist based at Harvard Medical School, and Bill Andrews, a molecular biologist whose career has focused on finding a cure for ageing. “It’s because new technology holds so much potential that I’m compelled to scrutinise it,” says Swain.

Early in the series, Buying Time reveals who the mystery recipient of the treatment was and where the experiment took place, which has been public knowledge since 2015. But that is only the beginning and there are other key details to uncover. Swain also meets Andrews, the scientist who developed the dual gene therapy that BioViva used, who claims he would never have given it to a human himself. Swain also talks to Parrish twice and discovers a medical tourism company charging high prices for unproven treatments that BioViva seems to be working closely with. The podcast is full of suspense as each episode throws up new questions about the company’s activities.

In his search for answers, Swain tries to uncover Parrish’s motivations. She says, for example, that she is trying to save lives: in her view, ageing is a disease that is the number one killer on the planet. Although we are now typically living longer than before – partly due to better medical interventions – this also means that we are more likely to develop age-related conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease and cancer, which can lead to a slow demise. “This is considered [to be] normal,” says Parrish. “Actually, what’s normal is for science to overcome these things.”

Parrish appears to be on a mission to cure ageing, but her credentials don’t make her a conventional fit for the part: she is neither a doctor nor a scientist. BioViva latches onto mainstream research though, for example by referencing work by María Blasco, the director of the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre in Madrid, who features in the podcast.

By treating mice with a gene therapy that is similar to one of those used by BioViva, Blasco and her team were able to delay age-related diseases in the rodents and cause them to live longer. Like Parrish, Blasco is tackling ageing due to its link to these diseases. However, the difference is that Blasco’s team isn’t sidestepping accepted procedures. “I think regulations are important,” says Blasco. “It’s a way to, first, demonstrate that something is working for real and isn’t just a placebo effect, and, second, to be sure that it is not toxic.”

New developments in anti-ageing research featured in the show are fascinating and should have had more airtime. Swain also touches on practical, ethical and philosophical questions that come into play when aiming to extend our healthy lifespans. Does such an undertaking devalue the lives of people with disabilities or chronic conditions? And what will happen to the population if we can all be rejuvenated? Perhaps we need to become a bit older and wiser first.



Really looking forward to listening to this Bioviva and Liz Parrish occupy such an strange corner of longevity. I don’t know how to think about them tbh. On one hand I have to admire the boldness of forging ahead and even self-experimenting. On the other hand, it seems rather reckless, especially when nobody else seems to currently believe that telomerase is the solution to all of this. When you add the “pay to be a volunteer in our clinical trial” angle it just all gets weirder.

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