The Search for a Pill That Can Help Dogs—and Humans—Live Longer

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De Grey’s argument that it was imperative to devote more scientific effort to slowing or halting the processes underlying cancer and other age-related diseases began to feel more convincing. “It just made so much sense,” Halioua says. “I very quickly knew that this was a hundred percent where I was going to spend my life.” At the end of that summer she gave a presentation on her project, impressing an Oxford researcher involved with de Grey’s nonprofit. When he suggested she join him in the UK as a grad student, with SENS Research Foundation funding, she accepted. That fall, her La Jolla landlord died. In 2017, she flew to England with a new mission in life.

Halioua fell in love with Oxford. Her thesis examined how health systems might cover treatments that only paid off far in the future, a potential challenge for antiaging drugs. She had a part-time job consulting on science with a biotech startup that was also backed by the foundation. But her new life began to fracture.

Halioua’s relationship with her supervisor broke down. She felt he bullied her and was controlling, requiring her to do work related to a company he worked for and restricting whom she could talk with. (Halioua has spoken publicly about her experience without naming her supervisor. He did not respond to a request for comment.)

She also became uncomfortable with the SENS Research Foundation and its animating spirit, de Grey. She initially admired the foundation, she says: “They had a lot of glitz and glam for me.” She was impressed by the organization’s formal dinners, where rich and distinguished men were encouraged to donate to the war on aging. But she started to suspect she was only being invited “because I was a cute young girl,” she says. “Also smart, but that wasn’t what they cared about.” At one dinner, she says, de Grey plied her with alcohol and told her that as a “glorious woman” she had a duty to have sex with potential donors to encourage contributions. (After Halioua went public with her allegations several years later, de Grey denied making the statements.)

By 2018, Halioua was looking for an escape route. “I really snapped because of all of that stuff Aubrey and my professor did,” she says. “It created this desire to create my own sphere of influence, where I control the rules.” She turned to one of the only prominent women in the small circles working on aging treatments, Laura Deming. Deming was a wunderkind who had started working at age 12 in Cynthia Kenyon’s lab, enrolled at MIT at 14, dropped out after receiving a fellowship from Peter Thiel, and now ran a venture capital fund in San Francisco to bring aging-related startups into the Silicon Valley mainstream. (One of her latest projects involves developing technology to freeze organs without damaging them.) Halioua had once been introduced to Deming through de Grey, and now she emailed in pursuit of an internship.

Deming arranged a brief phone interview. Halioua was “very intense,” Deming recalls. “I asked her a question about Markov models”—a math trick to analyze processes that change over time—“and could tell that she didn’t have the exact answer but was determined to figure it out on the call” by wringing every possible clue from what Deming said. “That was really cool.” The internship was only two weeks long, but for Halioua it was enough—a refuge and perhaps a new beginning. In early 2018, she flew to California.

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3 thoughts on “The Search for a Pill That Can Help Dogs—and Humans—Live Longer

  1. Hi there! It’s not the first day I’ve read the pages. But the connection speed is lame. How can I subscribe to your RSS feed? I would like to read you further.

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