Celine Halioua dreams of someday walking onto a Silicon Valley stage alongside a healthy 15-year-old Great Dane—almost twice the breed’s current lifespan. The young biotech entrepreneur is the founder and CEO of Loyal, a startup devoted to delaying aging in dogs and giving them more healthy years.
It’s a beautiful dream that may soon become a reality. Halioua has raised $58 million and currently has two drugs in development. Within the next few years, she hopes to bring the first commercial drug to delay aging or extend lifespan to the market. While her work focuses on dogs, she believes her research could eventually lead to similar drugs for humans.
Extending Life Is Possible
The US Food and Drug Administration is yet to recognize aging as a condition that can be treated, making it difficult for scientists like Halioua to get life-extending drugs approved. Yet, the proof that increased longevity is possible already exists in the world of lab animals. Studies of worms, flies, and mice have boosted and even doubled these species’ lifespan.
But dogs are more compelling subjects than lab rats. Canine research is cheaper than human trials, and their shorter life expectancies mean faster trial results. Plus, the pampered lifestyle dogs enjoy makes them much more relatable than insects and rodents, which Halioua believes will put her in a good position to extend her research from pups to people.
The Test Subjects
Senior dog fans may already be familiar with some of Halioua’s study volunteers. Many are former residents of Muttville Senior Dog Rescue, a unique sanctuary in San Francisco with an adorable social media presence. Loyal works with the Muttville staff to recruit senior dogs for Halioua’s two aging studies.
The Texas native is an animal lover and dog mom to Wolfie, an adopted Husky she describes as her cofounder and Loyal’s chief evangelist. The company’s slogan is also very fitting: “Save the dogs, save the world.”
The Magic Pills
While there are other companies working on canine aging studies, their drugs focus on specific ailments or symptoms of aging rather than slowing the entire process. Halioua’s team has identified a compound they believe will specifically help giant breed dogs by delaying their accelerated aging. A second compound could reduce cognitive decline and kidney problems in older dogs of all sizes.
Loyal is currently researching the markers of aging in doggy DNA thanks to 2,000 canine volunteers and preparing for the clinical trials of its two drugs. While the details are still hush-hush, Halioua says both have performed well when given to laboratory dogs. She plans to launch a full clinical trial next year in the hopes of winning FDA approval.