About eighteen years ago, when I was still a computer scientist, very few credible scientists, and entrepreneurs were interested in aging research or longevity. There were very few conferences and meetings on the topic of longevity. Venture capitalists and pharmaceutical companies were also not too keen in investing in drugs intended to increase healthy productive lifespan. The first significant conference on aging I helped organize was 2008 GTCBio’s New Applications of Aging Research in San Diego and it was very small – less than 80 people showed up. That was one of the first high-level academia meets industry conferences. It was very difficult to find credible startup companies and there were very few credible scientists. At that conference Michael West (now at AgeX), the founder of Geron, presented his vision for BioTime (now Lineage Cell Therapeutics), Michael Rose and his team presented their work on long-lived flies, Lenny Guarente of MIT and Olivier Boss of Sirtris (later acquired by GSK) presented on sirtuin biology. So 4-5 startup companies focusing on longevity in total.
But in eighteen years, since I transitioned from IT to biotech, all of that has changed. Now, not only are there multiple conferences and meetings on longevity and aging research around the world, there is also growing interest from venture capitalists and biotechnology companies to pursue the noble cause of prolonging healthy human lifespan. Four out of the top thirty pharmaceutical companies supported by Insilico Medicine have prioritized aging research in their early-stage R&D efforts, and the more visionary and agile pharmaceutical companies have made significant progress in addressing cellular senescence. Conferences and meetings allow key opinion leaders and industry veterans to share ideas and technologies, compare research ideas, and inspire the next generation of scientists. These are just a few reasons why it is important to have conferences and meetings regularly. With coronavirus lockdowns finally coming to a halt, people are beginning to ditch virtual meetings for in-person interactions. This has led to a surge in events and conferences around the world, and scientists are finally able to meet in-person to share ideas and have open discussions. From a longevity point of view, the industry now has multiple conferences and meetings around the world, especially when compared to eighteen years ago. This year’s in person GRC Systems Aging conference was a major success.
But One of the largest conferences on longevity will take place this year at the University of Copenhagen from August 29 to September 2. It is called the 9th Aging Research and Drug Discovery (ARDD) Meeting.
The ARDD meeting will feature well-known scientists and researchers from some of the biggest biotechnology companies in the world, as well as leading experts from the top academic institutions. The conference will include a longevity medicine workshop, discussions on various topics like the power of artificial intelligence, and aging of specific organs, and much, much more.
The first ARDD meeting took place in 2014, the year I founded Insilico Medicine. It started when I brought together a group of aging researchers and pharmaceutical company executives at the Aging Forum as part of the Miptec/BaselLife conference in Basel, Switzerland. The first ARDD meeting was highly successful because a lot of companies that were going to the BaselLife conference also participated in the ARDD meeting. We co-organized it with Bhupinder Bhullar or Novartis, and Brian Kennedy of the Buck Institute for several years and it was pretty successful with the many big pharmaceutical companies and startups presenting their cutting-edge research. High-level of academic speakers, interesting program, and the proximity to Roche and Novartis as well as the Basel Life conference ensured steady participation from Big Pharma and brought credibility to the conference.
But it was not until Morten Scheibye-Knudsen took over the conference and moved it to Copenhagen that the conference took off and became the largest event in aging research in the biopharmaceutical industry globally. During COVID-19 in 2020 and 2021, we arranged hybrid ARDD events, with social distancing and masks in place, and also so that people could join the event virtually. Specifically in 2021, over 160 scientists participated in the hybrid event with more than 2,000 dialing-in virtually. Within a span of 9 years, the ARDD has become the largest conference in the world on aging research and longevity. The conference costs a lot of money to arrange – and we hire programmers to record the conference so that people are able to follow on YouTube. Videos from the 8th ARRD meeting can be viewed here. All the lectures from ARDD 2021 are also available online.
This year, the ARDD is expecting over 400 people on-site, making 9th ARRD meeting one of the largest conferences in the world on longevity.
What to Expect from the 9th ARDD Meeting
Day 1: The event will begin on August 29 with a ‘Longevity Medicine Workshop.’ This workshop will be the first in history to bring together health care providers involved in longevity to discuss the status quo and the future of the field, as well as related challenges, perspectives, and actionable items. The workshop is organized by Dr. Evelyne Bischof of Human Longevity Inc., with Dr. Sebastien Thuault, chief editor of Nature Aging, helping as co-organizer. Evelyn is an expert in internal medicine and oncology. Early in her career, she spent time practicing medicine and performing translational research in Switzerland, US, and China. She is the author of over 40 peer-reviewed papers. Sebastian is the launch editor of Nature Aging. He obtained his PhD from the University of Bristol and performed postdoctoral research in neuroscience at Columbia University. He joined Nature Research in 2011 and served as a senior editor at Nature Neuroscience until 2019. Following this, he transitioned to Nature Communications to steer the Neuroscience and Psychology team. In 2018, he worked as a publishing manager focusing on the proposal to launch Nature Aging and took over direction of the journal in March 2020.
Some of the other talented scientists who will be involved in this workshop include Tornado Therapeutics CEO Joan Mannick, Human Longevity CEO Wei-Wu He, Gameto CEO Dina Radenkovic, and Hevolution Foundation CEO Mehmood Khan, to name a few. I have written about Dina and Joan as part of my ‘Women in Longevity’ series and also recently covered the Hevolution Foundation.
The scientists taking part in this workshop will speak on such topics as what is needed to translate geroscience into the clinic, longevity medicine therapeutics, and longevity medicine diagnostics and innovations.
Another workshop that will also take place this day is called the ‘Emerging Tech Workshop.’ In this first-of-its kind workshop, we will explore the interplay between technologies that are transforming the future of biotechnology, drug discovery and aging research. This hands-on workshop will take you through the realms of blockchain, artificial intelligence, and rapid prototyping with robotics. You will also experience the power of AI and robotics to accelerate, enhance and scale scientific experiments. The Emerging Tech Workshop will be organized by Maximilan Unfried of VitaDAO. Michael Petr of Tracked.bio, Tim Peterson, co-founder of Healthspan Technologies and BIOIO, and Garri Zmudze, general partner at LongeVC will be there to lead the workshop.
The first day will also be divided into three lecture tracks, each focused on a specific area of aging research. These lecture tracks will also include time for strategic debates and open discussions.
Day 2: August 30 will begin with a talk on “drugging the nutrient-sensing network” by Dr. Linda Partridge of the Max Planck Institute for Biology of Aging. This will be followed by a series of talks on topics including “chemical interventions in aging promoting healthspan,” “an update on geroscience approached to treat age-related diseases,” and “regulation of stem cell biology by interferons independent of antiviral function.” Some of the speakers include Gordon Lithgow, Tyler Golato, Carles Canto, and Vishwa Dixit. The day will end with a talk on “quantifying aging and rejuvenation” by Judith Campisi of the Buck Institute. In total, there are 18 lectures scheduled just in the first day – giving you an idea of what to expect next! Participants will also be able to set-up posters on this day.
Day 3: On the third day of the conference, delegates will learn about genome stability and aging, and genome maintenance mechanisms in aging by Dr. Bjorn Schumacher and Morten, respectively. These will be followed by more sessions on human biological aging. We will also learn about aging through the lens of reproductive longevity. This will also be the only time when a venture capital panel will be present to talk about investing in longevity biotechnology. Alexandra Bause, co-founder of Apollo Health Ventures, will be there to guide folks on how to get more involved in investing in longevity. Alexandra is leading the venture creation programs that aim at founding new biotech startups targeting the aging process at a molecular level. She is also a trained pharmacist with expertise in pharmaceutics and pharmacology. Before joining Apollo, Alexandra worked with The Boston Consulting Group, specializing in biopharma strategy – so if you want to start your journey as a longevity investor, you simply cannot afford to miss this one!
Day 4: The fourth day will start with new methods of target identification, biomarkers, and muscle stem cells in age and disease. We will be joined by Anders Malarstig, director at Pfizer, as well. Anders is a medical researcher and manager with experience in clinical and experimental human genetics, epidemiology and vascular biology. He is also an expert in population research and functional genomics strategies to inform drug development from preclinical phase to phase III.
Following more lectures on telomeres and circadian clocks, we will conclude the day with discussing what reprogramming, parabiosis, and autophagy have in common. Some of the speakers include Joris Deelen, Nir Barzilai, Sarah Mitchell, and Sara Hagg.
Day 5: The last day of the event will kick-off with a poster award ceremony, followed by presentations on bringing geroscience into clinical practice, predicting mortality in old age, and quantifying age and rejuvenation. The final presentation will be made by Vera Gorbunova on the topic of mechanisms of longevity and epigenome stability. The event will wrap up after this – however, this is not all, there’s way more!
The ARDD is Completely Non-Profit and has several unique features:
To help nurture the next generation of biogerontologists from the very early years, we are piloting the Student Ambassador Program called “Inspire Longevity“. Becoming a student ambassador for the ARDD Meeting is an excellent way for students to meet with leading academic and industrial researchers and practitioners in the fields of aging and drug discovery. The student ambassador program is also an excellent way of interacting with other students from all over the world and enjoy the ARDD sessions together. PandaOmics is a platform that allows researchers a unique opportunity to both explore the unknown of OMICs data and interpret it in the context of all the scientific data generated by the scientific community. This platform will not only be showcased at ARDD 2022, but students and scientists will get a chance to explore how it works through a detailed demonstration.
The student ambassador program will be coordinated by Andrea Olsen, Zachary Harpaz, and Nina Khera. Andrea is an aspiring neurobiologist and a former intern at Insilico Medicine, while Zachary is passionate about applying AI and computer science in ways that can impact the world. Nina is currently working on a startup called Biotein, that has raised $65,000 to increase access to tools to prevent aging-related diseases. These teenagers already have impressive CV’s and will be happy to guide applicants through the Inspire Longevity program.
The two primary sources of funding for ARDD are corporate sponsorship and ticket sales for the event. Sponsorship is important to make the conferences more accessible and affordable. The finances are managed by the University of Copenhagen. The funding is distributed in three broad categories: academic speakers’ expense (travel expenses and overnight accommodation), on-site costs (catering, etc), and venue costs. ARDD is a non-profit with a sole aim of bringing the longevity field to the forefront of scientific research.
Supporting Ukrainian Scientists
Due to the ongoing war in Ukraine, Ukrainian scientists and researchers are invited to participate in the ARDD 2022 for free. If they cannot travel physically to the venue, they can dial-in for free and join virtually.
What To Expect from the 9th ARDD in 2022: Interview with Dr. Morten Scheibye-Knudsen and Dr. Daniela Bakula
Alex: Since you two took over the ARDD as the executive chairs and took charge of the program and organization the conference transformed into the world’s largest event in aging research in the biopharmaceutical industry. In your opinion, what were the main factors for such spectacular success?
Morten: I think we were very fortunate to be able to get leading scientist to join the meetings. We have always focused on having stellar academic speakers, including great speakers from a bit outside the field. With a great academic lineup, companies are interested in the event and this then also brings in venture capitalists.
Alex: What should we expect to see at ARDD this year? What are the hottest topics?
Daniela: I think the growing clinical focus is a very hot topic in the field. But for clinical trials to happen we need good biomarkers, so called biological clocks, and this is also a very hot topic that will be discussed by the leaders in the field. We also have the best basic scientists in the world giving us the latest on the breakthroughs in aging research that will shape the field in the coming years. I am also extremely excited about all the companies joining and the growing interest from VCs.
Alex: Most of the speakers will be on site this year. But there will be many delegates dialing in from all over the world. How would you recommend watching the lectures?
Morten: The event is streamed via a University of Copenhagen service. When you register, you will receive a link that will get you to the streaming website. BUT, if you have the possibility of coming to Copenhagen, then watching them in person is a whole other experience.
Alex: You are spending enormous amount of time and energy every week for 50 weeks in a row to get the best speakers, get the conference funded, and ensure that the people interested in aging are aware of this conference. Do you think the resulting event is worth this effort?
Daniela: This is a lot of work but also very exciting and rewarding. We hope that with this event we can contribute to foster new collaborations by bringing people from different areas and perspectives together. Also seeing that we provide a valuable knowledge and networking platform for young people with an interest in aging research makes the conference worth the effort.
Alex: Last year, around 25% of all delegates were from biopharmaceutical companies, what should we expect this year?
Morten: We currently have about 40% non-academic so the proportion of people from the industry has grown over the last years. This perhaps reflects the increasing commercial interest we have in this field.
Alex: One of the crown jewels of the pharmaceutical industry in Denmark is Novo Nordisk. In fact, it is majority-owned by a non-profit foundation. But Novo Nordisk never supported the ARDD even after it turned into the world’s largest event in its field and moved to Copenhagen. Do you know why are they ignoring it?
Morten: I think Novo Nordisk is still opening their eyes towards aging as a pharmacological target. Every year we have more and more speakers from big pharma so the field is definitely becoming very interesting for these companies and we actually do have many participants from Novo, Pfizer, Roche, and others. Hopefully we can get their support in the future.
Morten Scheibye-Knudsen, MD, PhD
Morten Scheibye-Knudsen did his medical training at the University of Copenhagen including a short scholarship investigating mitochondrial physiology. During medical school he founded his first company, Forsoegsperson.dk, which has grown to be the largest provider of volunteers for clinical trials in Denmark. After medical school he worked as a medical doctor in Denmark and Greenland before moving to basic science as a post doctoral fellow at the National Institute on Aging, NIH, in Baltimore. Here, he utilized computational and wet lab science to investigate how DNA damage contributes to the complex phenotypes seen in premature and normal aging. In 2016 he returned to Copenhagen as an assistant professor to start his own research program focusing on aging. In 2018, he received tenure and was promoted to associate professor. His team (~20 people) utilizes computational science, animal models, gene editing, and high-throughput approaches such as high-content microscopy and omics investigations to understand the molecular basis of aging and age-associated phenotypes. Lab generated data is routinely analyzed through AI-assisted pipelines such as novel cellular senescence classifiers and fully automated animal tracking (www.tracked.bio). He has published his research in some of the best journals in the world including Cell, Cell Metabolism, New England Journal of Medicine and many others. In addition to his core research, he has been lecturing at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health for 8 years; He is a chief editor at Frontiers in Aging running the Aging Interventions section; He is an advisor to Deep Longevity, the Longevity Vision Fund and Vitexia; He has given invited presentations at top institutions (NIH, MIT, Harvard, NUS, Karolinska and others); and received several awards for his research. In addition, he has been organizing the Aging Research and Drug Discovery meeting.
Daniela Bakula, PhD
Daniela Bakula graduated in Biology from the University of Tübingen, Germany in 2012. She obtained her PhD with the highest honors in 2017 from the University of Tübingen within the International Max-Planck Research School “From Molecules to Organisms“. Her PhD work focused on molecular mechanisms regulating autophagy and was awarded with highly competitive dissertation prizes. Daniela Bakula moved to Denmark in 2016, where she did her postdoc in the lab of Morten Scheibye-Knudsen at the Center for Healthy Aging, University of Copenhagen before transitioning into an assistant professorship. Her work focuses on understanding how DNA damage may impact aging. Based on her work she received a DFG fellowship as well as a Lundbeck foundation fellowship and several other grants to fund her research. She is an associate editor with Frontiers in Aging and is co-organizing ARDD since 2020.