Conducted by Brian Duggan June 6, 2011 in New York City
Brian Duggan: Can you tell me about your original interest in healthy aging and Telomere Science?
Noel Patton: I started to notice the inflictions of old age setting in, such as a stiff knee and whatever, so I got interested in anti-aging medicine at that time, that’s 15 years ago, for myself. At that time, anti-aging medicine was pretty primitive and had very few legitimate people in it.
So I started taking human growth hormone, testosterone, melatonin–basically replacing of hormones that decline of age, bringing them back to a more youthful level. And so I was doing that and it felt like I was benefiting from it. It was also a concern though–knowing that if you stop taking the hormones you are going right back to where you were before then. It’s not a permanent anti-aging fix by any means.
I was at a black tie dinner fundraiser for anti-aging research and there were several speakers and Jerry Shay was one of them. He spoke about the elongation of telomeres, which I never heard of. So we got very excited when he was talking about how he could make cells immortal– that’s the ultimate in anti-aging. So after his lecture, I pulled him to the side and asked him where can I get some of this immortality stuff.
And he laughed. and said that the University of Texas had licensed all their patents to a company called Geron, whom I have never heard of. And then the next day I called at the CEO of Geron, made an appointment, went up to see him and eventually, it was a while later, ended up making a private placement investment into Geron. With the understanding that my money had to be used to further basic research on telomerase activation as opposed to the other things that Geron does such as telomerase inhibition and what they are now of course well known for, embryonic stem cells. So I was involved with Geron on the TA project, the Telomerase Activation Project, because they were using my money to do it.
And then it turned out that Geron just had a couple of hiccups in their career where they were running out of money and just couldn’t do all research that they would have liked. They had so many good important things and they didn’t have the money to do it all. They laid-off half their staff at that time and they decided to shelve telomerase activation and focus instead on cancer and embryonic stem cells and so forth. So I, because I knew about the situation, I was able to negotiate the license with Geron for the worldwide exclusive rights to develop their telomerase activation technology for non-FDA drug use. And that was almost nine years ago and we’ve been developing the products since then.
Brian Duggan: Another moment in time that I’m curious about was your being there when TA-65 was found to work in terms of lengthening telomeres. I understand all of these compounds were tested and the ones that worked were rather very toxic, but at some point in the lab in Hong Kong, there was a moment of “Hey, this one works and this comes from astragalus!” Can you tell me about that point in that process?
Noel Patton: Well, it’s small world, because coincidentally I knew and was friendly with the scientist at the University of Science and Technology in Hong Kong who, independently from me, had been negotiating with Geron to test Chinese herbs for telomerase activity. But they weren’t able to reach an agreement. Geron can be a very tough negotiator and so I was able to use what little influences I had while I was there anyway, and they did reach an agreement and started testing. I think I had a material impact on that. Geron would probably say “You were a day late and a dollar short,” but it doesn’t matter, except that I did know a lot. That’s what really matters because I knew about it. And so they tested these Chinese herbs and the only one they found worked was from astragalus. And then serendipitously, they were able to not just identify this from astragalus, but specific molecules. One of which is TA-60 but the best of which is TA-65.
And we chose, because I have the right to all their technology for non drug use telomerase activation, I can take any compounds that they have or any other technology they develop and so I chose what I thought was the best one.
That’s how we went ahead and developed TA-65. The Chinese had their understanding of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) which understood the thousands of possibilities and could narrow it down to those which might, from the literature, from the history, have effects which might be due to telomerase activation.
Brian Duggan: I also want to ask about the business, including the business license and that whole side of things. I think it is a fascinating piece to this and you shared a little about that moment of arranging the license with Geron, but that must have been another important moment in this story. Somehow you managed to arrange this for non-drug use as you say, but when you’re talking about aging, I don’t know if there’s ever going to be an FDA or a drug regulation in this space. The FDA is all set up around drugs for specific diseases. But not for something general like aging. So Geron is not going to really be able to be in the business of marketing an anti-aging drug. They can only be in the business of marketing of drugs that cure dementia or cures a specific disease, so what you’ve carved out in that license is potentially huge.
Noel Patton: A little of the history is that Geron was founded by Mike West and it was founded with what the name implies, which is it was an anti-aging company to develop basically telomerase activation to cure aging. But Mike West didn’t run the company. He was like the chief scientific officer. And the investment bankers who funded the company and the management at some point decided that they didn’t want to be an anti-aging company and that it might sound too much like snake oil. And they wanted to go after drugs that cure diseases.
And Mike West left Geron at that time being, I think fed up that that wasn’t the purpose of the company, and he went to work on things that were going to cure aging. Anyway, you’ve got to get the exact story from him, but it’s something like that. So he had just left Geron when I got involved. So I didn’t meet with him that time. I know him now. So Geron, when I came along, they weren’t interested in anti-aging at all and their whole modus operandi and their whole focus was on drugs and as you said, you can’t have a drug for anti-aging. So they were looking for drugs to cure diseases.
Telomerase activation has the potential to cure a lot of diseases. As you probably know, almost all the diseases associated with aging are one’s where people have short telomeres in comparison to people who don’t have those diseases. And you also know, older people have shorter telomeres than younger people. And you can, to some extent, predict a person’s life span by how long or short their telomeres are. But Geron was focusing and still is focusing on drugs for specific diseases, so they weren’t really interested in this space for non-drug anti-aging, and quite frankly I think it was beneath them. They’re scientists, MDs, PHDs, and the idea that a Nutritional Supplement just was kind of beneath them. They could only focus on so many things since clearly they didn’t have any expertise in a consumer product. I mean, all they know about is going through the FDA, getting a drug approved and then they make billions if it happens and there’s a process that everybody is very clear, everybody knows what to do.
Brian Duggan: So you took advantage of the Pharmaceutical world’s usual perspective and you carved out what they didn’t value that much by them, because of their perspective. You carved out the rights for the non-drug usage of their technologies featuring this one.
Noel Patton: Yeah, you can imagine they put a very low value on it because here’s a guy –, I’m not an MD, and not a PHD or a Scientist. I’m a guy who was manufacturing electric fans and heaters. So way beneath their MD, PHD perspective, their drug perspective of the world.
Brian Duggan: It wasn’t within their realm of focus
Noel Patton: Somebody might ask, “Mr. Patton, how did you with your background that has no relation to this stuff at all end up in this position?” And my answer is, “I was at the right place at the right time.” I recognized the value of this. Even though I was a newcomer, a matter of fact maybe the reason I was able to recognize it because I wasn’t an MD, PHD, thinking of the drug stuff. I was looking at the consumer, consumer marketing, and an anti-aging perspective and I saw the value of this and may have had time to see the value of it. So I think they went to a few big pharmaceutical firms to see if they wanted it and that time the big pharmas showed no interest and so they said “okay, Noel, you can have it.”
Brian Duggan: Testing is one of the areas I wanted to specifically ask you about today because testing is a big part of what you’ve originally offered. It seems like a lot of the publicity around testing has been unfortunate, talking about the “death test” and I’m wondering how much you’re following that and what your take is on the public perceptions of all of this, especially because that’s the way a lot of people are hearing about testing for the first time.
Noel Patton: Well, I’m definitely following it, I know all the players, Maria Blasco in Spain and Elizabeth Blackburn and Calvin Harley who founded Telome Health.
And we actually do business with Repeat Diagnostics which is in Canada and we’ve certainly know Spectra Cell, who is also a major force in testing Telomeres. We might well have, be working with SpectraCell (as TA-Sciences’ testing provider) except that they weren’t around when we got started. Repeat Diagnostics was the only commercial Telomere measuring company at that time. So I’m aware of it all and I think it’s very, very good that this is happening. I don’t mind some of the negative or the controversial kind of comments, even about us. In our company we get some naysayers that still accuse us of being quacks or whatever. Not so many anymore but I’d rather have publicity out there talking about telomeres and telomerase and it’s potential, regardless.
As opposed to having nothing out there. Because an intelligent person like yourself, when you read about this, you know, the pro and the con, you can at least study it yourself and make up your own mind. If you never hear about it, there’s nothing to make up your mind about. So all this hype right now about telomeres and testing and so on, I’m all in favor of and I think it’s good. Now unfortunately, none of these tests that are out there right now are very useful. Maria Blasco’s test is useful, but it’s not available in the United States. Why is that, why do I say hers is useful and the others are not?
Maria’s can measure the shortest telomeres, and the others measure mean or average telomere length. Mean or average telomere measurement is pretty much, I’d say it’s useless for measuring longitudinally. That is to say if you are looking to test at the beginning and then later after a program like taking TA65 to see what’s happened to your telomeres, it’s the short telomeres you want to see what’s happened to, not the mean. SpectraCell and Repeat Diagnostics, both of those measure mean telomeres, which isn’t what you want to know you’re tracking longitudinally. They’re both very good tests if what you want to know is how short are my telomeres? Are mine really long or short for a man or woman who’s my age, that’s a very useful thing to know because it’s this fuse that’s burning in everyone of our cells and if one gets too short the cell blows up and in a nutshell, we’re dead. So, in that sense, it’s very useful to have one of those tests done so you know you have long, short or average telomeres for somebody your age.
But there’s more to it than that too. If you find out that for a man your age that your telomeres are short then you ought to do something about it. And what can you do about it? Well, you can live a more healthy lifestyle, meditate, eat well, exercise, all the stuff that you know. Anyway, you knew before it had anything to do with telomeres. When you go out to take TA65, or find another telomerase activator if you can, but there isn’t one right now. I mean, there will be but there isn’t yet/ But if your test shows you your telomeres are short, that tells you, you should do something.
But what if you’re 70 years old, and you measure your telomeres and it shows that they’re long for a man your age. Does that mean you shouldn’t do anything about it? Absolutely not, telomeres for an average 70 year old person are too short and so you don’t really need to measure your telomeres if you are above a certain age. You know, they’re shorter than they were when you were 40 and you ought to be doing something about it. That’s my strong, strong opinion. So that’s my thoughts on the the whole testing thing. I think it’s going to be very important for mass testing and when it becomes available for measuring the shortest telomeres out there, that will be really, really useful.
And I was going to say there, talking about a 70 year old or 80 or 65 or whatever but it doesn’t matter, whatever age you are, if you’re above a certain age, your telomeres are too short. Even if they’re long for your age and you know that this is case intuitively — you probably know of somebody that you’ve met or at least you’ve heard of that leads the perfect life. They eat perfectly, they drink in moderation, they don’t smoke they are not obese, they exercise, maybe they are a Buddhist and mediate all the time, no stress in their life. They have the perfect lifestyle, the kind that of most of us just can’t do. But you will also notice that they get old and they die. So just leading the perfect lifestyle isn’t good enough.
So, if you’ve got short telomeres, you’re on the short end of the stick and you better start paying more attention to it earlier. We don’t recommend TA65 for anybody under 40 just because we don’t think they’ll see much difference. You really only start to deteriorate around 40. But we have one person who is twenty five years old taking the product with our blessing because that this person’s telomeres were measured and they were short, that of a 50 year old. So, normally I wouldn’t recommend it to someone of that age, but when you’ve got 50 year old telomeres and you don’t start dealing with it before you’re 50, by then you’ve got 70 year old telomeres and you may be sick, real sick.