RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – “It’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.”

That observation by physician and geriatrics expert Edward J. Stieglitz could be the calling card for Sapere Bio. This 6-year-old Research Triangle-based startup uses biomarkers to predict biological age so people can stay healthy longer.

Sapere Bio

Physician Norman “Ned” Sharpless and Natalia Mitin, Ph.D., founded Sapere Bio in 2013. It was originally called HealthSpan Diagnostics, a reference to the period in your life when you’re healthy. The company grew out of the research of Sharpless, who at the time was director of the Lineberger Cancer Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. His lab pioneered the discovery of mechanisms of aging and predicted the role of senescence—the process of cell deterioration as we get older—in chronic diseases.

Sharpless is now director of the National Cancer Institute and is no longer involved with Sapere Bio. In addition, he serves as chief of the Aging Biology and Cancer Section in the National Institute on Aging’s Laboratory of Genetics and Genomics. And he also co-founded G1 Therapeutics, another Research Triangle-based clinical-stage biotechnology company that went public in 2018. Mitin is a former research assistant professor at UNC. She was the first employee at Sapere Bio and is now CEO and president.

Measuring biological age against chronological age

The company’s raison d’être is to develop diagnostic tools that measure biological age—your physiologic reserve, or how healthy you are inside—to help personalize clinical treatments so patients have better outcomes.

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We all age at different rates that are influenced by genetic, lifestyle and environmental factors. The goal is to be able to use a simple blood test in the doctor’s office to predict patient risk based on physiologic reserve. That knowledge can give physicians a leg up in forecasting medical problems, providing treatments, and otherwise managing their patients’ health.

“As we age, things happen and we can all suffer adverse events,” Mitin explained at a recent RTP 180 conference. “Aging is a known risk factor in almost every medical procedure. But chronological age doesn’t reflect the differences in individual aging. Biological age, the decline of physiologic reserve, is the underlying cause of adverse outcomes.”

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Sapere Bio is conducting extensive biomarker clinical studies to gauge physiologic reserve. The focus is on a small subset of biomarkers from which to build risk prediction models. These indicators appear as cells get older—or senescent—and can no longer divide to repair injured tissue.

First test looks for potential kidney weakness

AKI-Sapere is the first in a suite of blood tests under development to classify patients according to their risk for serious adverse events. It is administered before cardiovascular interventions to identify individuals in danger of acute kidney injury (AKI). AKI tends to occur in those who undergo cardiovascular and other major surgeries, cardiovascular procedures such as catheterization and stenting, or cytotoxic chemotherapy. Millions of patients are put at risk each year. Yet there are no diagnostic tests to predict who is most susceptible to this life-threatening complication.

In the absence of ways to measure physiological reserve, physicians have to guess whether patients are at risk, Mitin said. Beneficial treatments may not be so beneficial for individuals whose internal bodily fitness is in decline.

“Physiological aging is invisible,” Mitin added. “It’s not the wrinkles and grey hair, it’s the things that happen in your tissues that the clinician has no way of knowing.” Sapere Bio is changing that paradigm. With the development of tools to predict biological age, physicians may soon make decisions that aren’t only based on the years in patients’ lives, but also on the life in their years.

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