The challenges to overcome age-related disease

Through the lens of COVID-19

By: Tom Hughes, CEO Navitor Pharmaceuticals & Johan Strömquist, CEO NDA Group 

In this article, Tom Hughes and Johan Strömquist discuss the challenges facing longevity research and the adoption of health span as a viable target for medicines in the future.


Over the last few years the field of longevity and health span research has exploded and our understanding of the processes underpinning ageing and age-related disease has expanded greatly. In spite of this there are several challenges facing researchers, drug developers and society in general that must be overcome before we start seeing broader treatments that can fundamentally change the underlying pathology of ageing.

In the age of COVID-19 the need for progress has never been more urgent. The disparity in mortality rates we are seeing during the ongoing crisis is a stark reminder that age greatly impacts health. According to statistics shared by the CDC, age is a strong determinant of mortality in patients with COVID-19. There’s little doubt that people fall into a high-risk category for death from infection with this virus once they reach middle age.

A similarly notable finding was reported recently in The Journal of Infection that age-related comorbid conditions also represent a major risk factor for severe morbidity and death from COVID-19, including type 2 diabetes (OR 3.68), hypertension (OR 2.72), and underlying respiratory disease (OR 5.15). Whether directly associated with co-morbid conditions of aging or biological aging itself, it is clear that age and age-related diseases are in the spotlight as accelerants for serious complications of COVID-19.

The excess morbidity and mortality associated with aging, apart from COVID-19, comes with staggering implications for healthcare costs. This is driven in part from the fact that over 80% of people 65 years and older suffer from multiple comorbid conditions, and that over 70% of healthcare spending is allocated to the ~32 percent of people with more than one chronic condition.

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About the Authors

Thomas E. Hughes, PhD, President and Chief Executive Officer,
Navitor Pharmaceuticals
Dr. Hughes currently serves as a member of the Board of Directors of miRagen Therapeutics, Inc., is an advisor to Atlas Venture, and is a member of several scientific and strategic advisory boards, including Broadview Ventures, HotSpot Therapeutics, and Nimbus Therapeutics. Dr. Hughes holds a Ph.D. in nutritional biochemistry from Tufts University, an M.S. in zoology from Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University and a B.A. in biology from Franklin and Marshall College

Johan Strömquist, Chief Executive Officer,
NDA Group
As CEO of the NDA Group since 2013, Johan has worked to expand the NDA’s capabilities across the continents working with a team of exceptional skill and expertise. Johan has a background as serial entrepreneur in the IT and technology industry, serving the life science industry for over 20 years. His main focus remains on developing NDA’s unique ability to provide world leading advice and a client experience second to none.