Geriatrics expert says metformin as anti-ageing pill could hit bottom line of drugmakers as multiple medication may be unnecessary

By @vitthernandez on
Multiple Medication
Maintenance drugs of a diabetic and cardio patient. Facebook

The medical community was excited last week when news came out that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first human trial of metformin as an anti-ageing medication. The excitement comes from the possibility that the most-prescribed diabetes drug could extend life of people up to around 120 years old.

The human trial, called "Targetting Aging with Metformin," or TAME, would have people who are at risk for cancer, heart ailments or cognitive impairment over five to seven years. The aim of the landmark trial is to monitor if metformin would help slow how age-related ailments would progress and in the process push death by years, reports Care2 Healthy Living.

However, Yale University geriatrics professor Dr Mary Tinetti, observes that big pharmaceutical firms may not be so excited over TAME because of its possible negative effect on its bottom line. She explains that because many older adults have multiple chronic conditions, FDA approval of metformin as an anti-ageing medication “would encourage investigators to look at treatments that affect multiple conditions,” quotes Newsweek.

Numerous health issues translates into a lot of pills prescribed by doctors. Tinetti cites as example a person with diabetes and heart condition who would be prescribed an anti-diabetic agent, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory, beta-blocker and statin. But if metformin, or other single, lower-cost drug, can target multiple comorbidities among older patients, number of prescriptions to be filled would also decrease.

It would surely translate into savings for the patient but spell disaster financially for drug manufacturers, she points out. Beyond the lower pharmaceutical bills, patients may also be spared from contraindications of taking multiple pills which could cause serious side effects. For instance, certain arthritis pills renders blood pressure drugs less effective.

Another challenge to TAME would be to fund the cost of the first human trial, expected to reach $65 million, which includes recruitment effort and tracking the health of the 3,000 subjects over six year. Major corporations need to back the trial financially.

However, if TAME pushes through, a lot of companies would likely ride on its results. Hopefully, it won’t be a repeat of what happened to GlaxoSmithKline’s investment of $720 million in 2008 on a biotech startup that was developing drugs based on resveratrol. It is a compound found in red wine which, in animal studies, appear to increase life span. However, the experiment drug “bombed” in clinical trials and GSK shuttered the startup.

A miss by TAME could affect anti-ageing studies in the future. It could also discourage big pharmaceuticals from supporting R&D.

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