There Is a Longevity Pill Backed by Five Nobel Prize Winners

A new pill marketed as a dietary supplement claims it can boost 'metabolic health.'

Feb 4 2015, 4:10pm

​Image: ​Michael W. May/Flickr

So, we finally have a more credible longevity pill.

It's called Basis (as it wants to provide you with the foundations for a long life), and it's a dietary supplement purporting to boost your "metabolic health." It's been developed by Elysium He​alth, a research company that merges Silicon Valley's infatuation with living forever with East Coast science: Its founder and CEO, Eric Marcotulli, comes from a venture capitalism background in Menlo Park, while chief scientist Leonard Gua​rente has been researching ageing at MIT since 1982 and was previously at the helm of life-extension venture Elixir.

While the stated goal of Elysium is "helping people access, understand and benefit from scientific breakthrough in health," a quick glance at its blog shows the company is all about "stopping the pro​verbial clock" of ageing.

The development of the umpteenth magic pill to be sold online should not work us up too much, but there's a little detail: Elysium boasts ​five Nobel Prize winners (two for chemistry, three for medicine) in an advisory role. That's interesting in two ways. The first is that Basis will be labelled a "dietary supplement," as Elysium hasn't yet tested the substance on humans, something neces​sary to sell it as an FDA-approved drug. While the US market for supplements is as large as $18 billio​n per year, mainstream​ medicine has been critical of supplements, pointing out how their beneficial effects can't always be scientifically demonstrated. 

Now five guys with Nobel medals on their mantelpiece are throwing their scientific weight behind a pill that—by means of natural substances that can be found in milk (nicotinamide riboside) and blueberries (pterostilbene)—prevented some mice metabolisms from deteriorating, keeping them healthier for longer.To be sure, Basis is still far from unassailable. As Harvard biologist Pere Puigserver tol​d the Boston Globe: "It is not quite clear to me what they want to target with this pill. What does it mean, to improve metabolic health?" He also underlined that the supplement needed to be tested on human beings before being considered of any worth.

Read:​ What a Transhumanist Keeps in the Medicine Cabinet

For its part, Elysium has promised to conduct human tests as soon as possible, and to release the results to the public– although it may take deca​des to get conclusive evidence. Even after that, Basis could still have a hard time to get the FDA's stamp of approval, as the authority d​oes not recognize old age as a disease in itself. Still, if Elysium sticks to its declared principles of scientific rigour and transparency, it could become one of the first supplement-peddlers with such credibility. 

Which brings us to another important point about Elysium: it's a life-extension research facility that sells a pill. Life-extension research is by some account​s underfunded, and that's partly because investors can't see an immediate return from investing in it: In general, laboratories researching life-extension don't crank out any sellable product to make profit in the short term. As longevity researcher Aubrey de Grey explained to ​me: "People want to invest today to make money tomorrow. With life extension, things take a little longer." But Elysium, with its $50-per-mont​h supplement and its trove of Nobel prestige, could show how life-extension research can also pay quick.

It's still too early to tell, but the five Nobel winners' bid may go down as a turning point in the longevity market.