Global interest in a Kiwi company's anti-ageing drug is ramping up, with three major clinical trials now under way to test it against a range of ailments.
Mitoubiquinone mesylate, marketed as MitoQ, is a New Zealand owned and developed super-antioxidant that works by penetrating and optimising the cellular mitochondria, the so-called batteries within our cells.
Its backers believe the drug holds the potential to increase lifespan by 10 to 15 per cent, while also improving health. Discovered by the University of Otago's Professor Rob Smith and global mitochondria expert Dr Mike Murphy, of Cambridge University, the drug was launched as a skincare and supplement range in late 2013, and now sells into more than 100 countries.
Ageing and its associated health issues and lower energy levels is linked to a decline in mitochondrial function, and mitochondrial dysfunction is now known to be associated with more than 200 diseases or conditions.
"This includes some of the biggest issues affecting hundreds of millions of people around the world like diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, cardiovascular disease and more," said Greg Macpherson, MitoQ's chief executive and the pharmacist who formulated the antioxidant to penetrate mitrochrondria.
As we age, Macpherson said, the levels of antioxidants in our mitochondria deplete reducing their ability to fend off damage caused by free radicals - highly reactive chemicals that have the potential to harm cells in our bodies.
"Due to this damage our mitochondria decline in function at a rate of around 10 per cent a decade from our early thirties."
The MitoQ formulation worked by flooding the mitochondria with antioxidants, improving the level of energy available to a cell and reducing free radical-associated cell damage.
"By improving their function while reducing cell damage, we can slow down the ageing process keeping all of our organs and body healthier and younger for longer."
MitoQ is currently the subject of a collaborative study with Callaghan Innovation and the University of Auckland, which assesses its effects on blood sugar and cardiovascular health in 20 New Zealand patients.
Meanwhile, in the US, University of Colorado researchers are investigating whether it improves physiological function in middle-aged and older adults, and a University of Delaware team is examining its effects on patients with moderate to severe chronic kidney disease.
Interest in the technology had been boosted by its recent selection for the US Government's National Institute of Aging's Interventions Testing Programme.
Each year, a global selection process by two expert panels invites a small number of compounds for testing, with applicants required to demonstrate "significant potential to delay or decelerate the ageing process and improve general health".
Macpherson said the commercial benefits that came with being picked for the programme were enormous.
Billions of dollars were being poured into mitochondria-targeted anti-ageing therapeutic agents.
"We were just lucky enough to be ahead of the curve - and the other big thing we've got is that what we do is quite broad.
"Should we get proof of life-extension efficacy, then it's a multibillion-dollar market in the states ... so we will have a huge opportunity."