Can Your Dog Live Longer?

An interview With Loyal CEO & founder Celine Halioua

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It’s no secret that in recent years, our pets have become more than just an extension of our family, but part of our actual family.

This growing bond has brought innovation and a boom in products and services catered to our four-legged family members, and we wanted to tell the stories of not only our best friends but of the people driving this industry forward.

There’s never been a better time to enter the pet market!

This Week

🦴 Main Story: How Celine Halioua intends to extend your dog’s life.

⚒️ Biz 101: How to raise $$, scale a business, and manage a 45-person company.

This week, we interview Celine Halioua, the CEO and founder of Loyal. Celine and her team are trying to break the very worthwhile goal of helping our beloved four-legged family members live longer and healthier.

1. What made you want to create Loyal and try to tackle this unbelievably complex thing such as dog longevity?

On the one hand, this “unbelievably complex thing” is simply another approach to preventative medicine. We are simply looking at treating age-related diseases as a broad, preventative, category, rather than approaching diseases one by one after they have manifested themselves.

Deteriorating metabolism leads to age-related metabolic disease and dysfunction. Kidney disease. Diseases of the muscle like sarcopenia. Diabetes and obesity. As dogs age rapidly, you can observe these changes, and target metabolic aging pathways to prevent all of these and more.

While I’ve long been interested in longevity, I’ve been an animal lover even longer — all my life, really. As a child, we were that family; the ones who took in strays of all species, nursing them back to health. The dogs were always my favorites. As an undergrad I pivoted from art to STEM after my first year at UT Austin, then to Oxford, and then to Silicon Valley, encouraged along the way by Laura Deming.

And all of this led me to the two realizations that inspired me to start Loyal.

First: Dogs are true extensions of our families and deserve to live longer than they do. Developing drugs that extend dog lifespan is a tractable problem and a worthy pursuit on its merits.

Second: Helping dogs live longer might also help us help humans live longer.

2. Is the goal to allow dogs to live til the age they currently do but just be healthier or to extend their lives til 20, 25, 30, etc...?

Extending lifespan has to include also extending quality of life.

We think of increased lifespan as a natural byproduct of improved quality of life. We are absolutely not interested in dogs living more years if those years aren’t good quality. Our approach with dogs is similar to the way that people take statins. Nearly 39 million Americans take statins daily according to the CDC, to prevent and/or mitigate diseases related to high cholesterol. Loyal is similarly in the prevention business, but rather for the broader category of age-related diseases rather than a single medical condition.

3. You recently got FDA approval for clinical trials but you are in uncharted waters since no one has ever created a dog longevity drug, how are you approaching this path to FDA approval?

From the very beginning, we've dedicated ourselves at Loyal to the rigorous process of seeking FDA approval for our dog aging treatments. It's a long, expensive, and complex process -- it often takes years to run a complete study and analyze the results.

The alternative is supplements, but supplements have no such obligation, and even if they do run their own studies, there’s no oversight. Although aging supplements are commonly used in senior dogs, for us it's essential that we're able to prove our treatments are both safe and effective.

The FDA process is diligent, thorough, and exacting; but that’s exactly as it should be as it sets a very high bar for both safety and efficacy. We welcome the opportunity to work with the experts at the FDA to achieve our vision.

Recently, we learned from the FDA that Loyal received protocol concurrence for our companion dog longevity study. That’s a huge milestone for any drug company, but it’s especially significant because, to our knowledge, this is the first time the FDA has accepted a clinical study intending to show that a drug extends lifespan and healthspan, rather than only proving efficacy against a single, specific disease.

4. Would this be an over-the-counter drug that you give your dog daily in their food or something you would need a veterinary prescription for when your dog is getting older, how would it work?

All of the medications we currently have in development would be prescribed by a veterinarian. For example, in some cases, the treatment would be a veterinarian-administered long-acting product given to your dog every three to six months. In other cases, it will be in the form of a daily pill for your pet, as prescribed by a vet.

We see the market as similar to a monthly heartworm prescription. The vet will know the dog best, and be in a position to make decisions regarding dosage, and other factors - and be at the front line to assure the dog’s safety.

5. What is methylation and how is it relevant to age and age-related diseases in dogs?

We’ve written about methylation here but methylation is the process where methyl groups are added to DNA. DNA methylation changes when a methyl group is added or removed to CpG sites. These changes allow us to observe the impact of lifestyle and the environment on dogs as they age. Methylation age is closely related to chronological age, and both increase steadily with time. Unlike chronological age, which depends only on time, methylation age reflects the impact of environment, diet, and many other factors on a dog’s DNA. This is why the methylation age and chronological age are usually different for any individual dog.

6. Why do smaller dog breeds live longer than bigger dog breeds when it's usually the opposite in the wild?

This question gets to the very heart of the problem we are addressing. The age disparity among dog breeds is both heartbreaking and unnecessary. At Loyal, we believe this is the direct result of a gene mutation that humans have bred into large and giant breed dogs that causes an over-expression of a growth hormone. And this overexpression doesn’t just affect lifespan — there are also common aging diseases associated with large dog breeds like hip and elbow dysplasia and arthritis. When people first began to breed dogs to focus on specific characteristics, they had no understanding of genetics. They focused instead on one or two desired characteristics, without realizing there were other, possibly harmful, repercussions also at play.

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1. You’ve raised $58 million which is incredible and a part that most entrepreneurs launching startups really struggle with, what are a couple of tips you can give entrepreneurs in the process of trying to raise capital right now?

Whatever success we’ve had to date I attribute to my team. It doesn’t sound like revolutionary advice, but I’ve been able to build the Loyal team with some of the world’s foremost experts in their areas of proficiency. All the expertise I don’t have – a veterinarian, an FDA expert, a chemist, someone who has run clinical and preclinical trials, and many other examples – is what I’ve surrounded myself with.

2. In your opinion why is the pet space such an incredibly exciting space to be in at the moment?

I’ve had all kinds of pets my entire life so it’s personally rewarding to be in a position to help dogs. Also, dogs are of particular interest to Loyal’s research because they coexist with humans in ways that no other animal does and age in a similar fashion. Cancer has been cured in mice, for example, but that hasn’t carried over to people. Mice aren’t similar enough: either genetically, or biologically, but also environmentally. Dogs share the same world as us and are exposed to roughly the same age-related diseases in the same timeframe as we are.

From a business perspective, if we are able to successfully develop and deliver the treatments we have in mind for dogs alone we will have an extremely successful and impactful business. The fact that our findings might also extend to humans just makes this opportunity that much more exciting.

3. What is it like being at the helm of a 45-person company at a young age? What are some insights on leadership that you have gathered in the last few years?

I think about this a lot and have shared some of those thoughts on my personal blog but one thing I think about a lot is how a founder or CEO must be capable of both extreme optimism and extreme pessimism, carefully balanced against each other, the ratio tuned to the needs of the problems ahead of them.

Optimism expresses itself as unwavering self-belief, the ability to look at a dense forest and see the path through it, and the ability to focus on the end goal even if the steps are challenging. This is necessary for convincing yourself to start a company and then bringing others (employees and investors) along. Optimism can in many ways “manifest” the future you envision, when paired with great execution.

Great execution is powered by pessimism. Pessimism is key to figuring out all the ways you could fail, and hedging them proactively. It’s about running down a problem until you understand every atom. Pessimism allows you to see around corners and grease the wheels of an otherwise creaky train.

Different situations require different ratios of pessimism and optimism.

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Finally, what’s a cat’s favorite TV show?

Claw and Order

See you Thursday!

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