24 January 2024

He promised to extend the lives of his clients to 120 years, but died at 77. Who is “Putin’s gerontologist” Vladimir Khavinson and what did he leave behind?

In St. Petersburg, 77-year-old gerontologist Dr. Vladimir Khavinson was laid to rest. He dedicated his work to anti-aging drugs, promised longevity to President Putin, and planned to extend human life to 120 years.

The scientist claimed that his developments, created in the 1970s based on cattle tissues at the request of the Ministry of Defense of the Soviet Union, were tested on Chernobyl nuclear disaster liquidators and soldiers in Afghanistan. As of the beginning of 2024, Khavinson and his family were associated with several healthcare facilities in St. Petersburg. They also collaborated with pharmaceutical companies whose products were notably used by officials and athletes.

Paper tells the story of the gerontologist from St. Petersburg and his peptide bioregulators, the effectiveness of which is doubted by proponents of evidence-based medicine.

Why Khavinson received an order and how he is connected with officials

In January 2017, at the Kremlin, Vladimir Putin awarded the Order of Friendship to Vladimir Khavinson, a scientist and businessman from St. Petersburg. He was the director of the Institute of Bioregulation and Gerontology, and was known for creating drugs to prolong youth.

The most well-known development of the Order of Friendship recipient is the so-called “Khavinson peptides”. They have long been available in the form of capsules, syrup, and drops and, according to their creator, can be both drugs and dietary supplements, depending on the “concentration of the active drug.” A course of rejuvenating supplements costs 43 thousand rubles.

The Russian Ministry of Health issued permits for 13 immunomodulating drugs created by Vladimir Khavinson. Among them are solutions such as Retinalamin for treating eye diseases and Cortexin for restoring brain function. The injectable drug Thymalin and nasal spray Thymogen, created by Khavinson, are designed to address, among other things, complications after coronavirus. According to MedIQ’s handbook, none of these drugs has evidence-based effectiveness. The cost of some of them is around five thousand rubles per package.

Over more than 30 years of scientific activity, Khavinson registered patents in various countries, including the United States. For instance, the US FDA approved the use of Epitalon peptide “for melatonin production and slowing aging.”

In an interview with online media Fontanka, Khavinson claimed that his drugs were taken by leaders of the USSR: General Secretaries of the Communist Party Leonid Brezhnev and Yuri Andropov. However, allegedly, the elderly leadership did not benefit from the gerontologist’s developments as they only began taking those drugs at the final stage. In 1996, as assured by Khavinson, ten types of his drugs were also taken for Boris Yeltsin’s treatment.

“After the treatment course, some of [Yeltsin’s] conditions improved, and because of this, I was promoted to the rank of colonel for my role in creating these drugs. Now those [people in the Kremlin] who know, call us,” said Vladimir Khavinson.

Governor of St. Petersburg Valentina Matviyenko and Vladimir Khavinson. St. Petersburg, 2008. Photo: Professor Khavinson’s website.

The official website of “Khavinson peptides” indicates that many members of the current Russian political elite allegedly had their bodies “restored” by the gerontologist. Among them was purportedly the Chairwoman of the Federation Council, former Governor of St. Petersburg, Valentina Matviyenko.

How Khavinson became a scientist and started creating drugs for prolonging youth

Vladimir Khavinson was born in East Germany in 1946, but his family later moved to Minsk. According to his account, he graduated from the Minsk Suvorov Military School and initially planned to become a mathematician. However, he later enrolled in the Kirov Military Medical Academy (VMA) in Leningrad.

At VMA, Vladimir Khavinson, along with his classmate Vyacheslav Morozov, studied how to enhance the body’s resistance to harmful factors, ranging from stress to toxins. During their practice at the Leningrad Meat Factory, VMA students isolated “biologically active substances” from the thymus (the central organ of the immune system) of cows, which “turned out to be peptides.” In their final year of study, based on their experiments with cows, they created a “drug in little vials” from these peptides.

In the early 1970s, Khavinson and Morozov were hired by VMA.

Vyacheslav Morozov and Vladimir Khavinson during military service. Moscow, 1971. Photo: Professor Khavinson’s website.

“Their ‘invention’ [the drug made from the cattle thymus] underwent multiple examinations. Academician [and future head of the St. Petersburg center for the HIV prevention and control, Nikolai] Belyakov sharply criticized the development. However, as a result, Khavinson and Morozov became prominent scientists at VMA,” recalls another VMA graduate, professor and vice president of the Russian Society of Evidence-Based Medicine Specialists, Vasily Vlasov.

The history of creating youth-extending drugs traces back to Soviet secret developments, as claimed by Khavinson. In 1975, he allegedly received an order from the Soviet Ministry of Defense, and by 1982, registered the drug named Thymalin, designed to “restore impaired immunity” and “increase lifespan.”

According to Professor Vasily Vlasov’s recollections, Thymalin was quickly approved by the Pharmacological Committee, although there was “very little evidence of effectiveness.”

Soon, the young scientist started publishing more and more scientific articles. At the time of his death, Vladimir Khavinson had more than 800 publications, including 34 monographs. As Vlasov recounts, anyone interested in the Khavinson’s “immunostimulating” developments was not denied research access, but under certain conditions: a full report on usage had to be prepared, ampoules had to be returned, and Khavinson and Morozov had to be listed as co-authors of the article.

In 1992, having already defended his doctoral dissertation, Khavinson founded the Institute of Bioregulation and Gerontology in St. Petersburg and became its director. In 2001, his institute became part of the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences.

Over the years, Vladimir Khavinson held positions in government bodies, including serving as a guest specialist in the health committee of St. Petersburg. After receiving the Order of Friendship from President Putin in 2017, gerontologist Khavinson, along with his wife Svetlana Trofimova, hosted the About the Most Important TV show on Russia-1 channel.

Vladimir Khavinson claimed that he was nominated for the Nobel Prize in 2010 for his discoveries, but there is no official confirmation of this.

What are Khavinson’s developments criticized for

That’s how the mechanism of action of “Khavinson peptides” is described on the official website: if there are issues with any organ, a person should be injected with an extract from the same organ of a young calf. This extract consists of peptides. Unlike proteins, peptides consist of a smaller number of amino acids, making it easier for them to travel through the body. According to Khavinson, “peptide bioregulators” can restore tissues at the cellular level.

Despite the actual use of peptides in pharmacology and cosmetology, evidence-based medicine specialists regularly criticize “Khavinson’s peptides” in particular.

Vasily Vlasov called the claimed mechanism of action of “Khavinson’s peptides” a “fantastic hypothesis.”

“They could associate marketing of these peptides with other, even more fantastic hypotheses, but all of this is absolutely irrelevant. In normal medical practice, explanatory considerations are insignificant. Only effectiveness and safety, studied in good trials, matter. These peptides have never been studied in a normal comparative experiment. There is no evidence that they bring any benefit,” said Dr. Vlasov to Paper.

Experiments on the influence of “Khavinson peptides” on aging have been conducted on both humans and animals, but, according to scientists, convincing results have never been published. In the 1980s, the research on peptide drugs developed at VMA involved Chernobyl disaster liquidators and participants of the war in Afghanistan. Vice-Governor of St. Petersburg Oleg Ergashev now mentions the positive impact of these studies for the health of the affected people. In the 2000s, allegedly more than 11,000 employees of Gazprom were involved in Khavinson’s experiments—according to the results, the morbidity among the subjects allegedly decreased by half compared to other workers. However, Gazprom denied the use of “peptide bioregulators” in the company.

Vice-Governor Oleg Ergashev presents letters of appreciation from the city government to Vladimir Khavinson in the White Hall of the Mariinsky Palace on the 30th anniversary of the St. Petersburg Institute of Bioregulation and Gerontology, December 16, 2022. Photo: Administration of St. Petersburg.

Structures created by Khavinson claimed to have thousands of studies on “peptide complexes” involving 112 million people. Apart from the words of the gerontologist himself, Paper could not find confirmation of these numbers. According to the medical media outlet Cuprum, articles on “Khavinson peptides” are published in journals that do not even belong to the fourth quartile—a category of scientific journals least demanded in the scientific community.

“The very concept of ’’lowering immunity’ and the possibility of its ‘enhancement’ is an ugly simplification of knowledge about the complex immune system,” said Dr. Vlasov.

How Khavinson is associated with pseudoscience

At the same time, the Institute of Bioregulation and Gerontology in St. Petersburg, founded by Vladimir Khavinson, was accused of spreading pseudoscience and homeopathy. Former head of the RAS Commission on Pseudoscience, Evgeny Alexandrov, revealed that in the 2010s, he tried to combat the “healing energy brochures of Dr. Konovalov,” who was a professor at the Institute and headed the “neuroimmunoendocrinology laboratory” there.

“The director of the institute, Vladimir Khavinson, assured me that Konovalov is an excellent employee, and apparently, he engages in energy healing, about which the director knows nothing, in his free time. In reality, Khavinson wrote prefaces to Konovalov’s healing brochures. In 2013, the reform of the academy began, and attempts to reach the governing board of the RAS were doomed,” Evgeny Alexandrov explained in an interview.

In late 2022, the RAS Commission on Pseudoscience, chaired by Alexandrov, was dissolved. Shortly before this, Vladimir Khavinson became an academician of the RAS.

How much Khavinson earned and what he possessed in St. Petersburg and Moscow

Since the 1990s, Vladimir Khavinson built a business on the production and sale of peptide drugs. Currently, it is a network of scientific and trading enterprises connected by the same founders and employees of the Institute of Bioregulation and Gerontology. As of January 2024, Khavinson is still listed as a founder or director in seven entities. The combined annual income of five companies directly related to him reaches 400 million rubles.

In St. Petersburg, Vladimir Khavinson headed not only the Institute of Bioregulation and Gerontology of the Northwestern Branch of the Russian Academy of Medical Sciences but also a medical center associated with it. The medical center offers residents checkup and an “individual treatment plan using peptide bioregulators.” The revenue of the medical center for 2022 was 20 million rubles.

The Institute of Bioregulation and Gerontology repeatedly supplied its developments to Russian athletes, particularly rhythmic gymnasts (including Alina Kabaeva, a long-rumored wife of Vladimir Putin). For example, in 2013, the Russian Ministry of Sports purchased “Khavinson peptides” for almost 2.5 million rubles.

Currently, companies closely associated with Vladimir Khavinson are engaged in the implementation of “peptide bioregulators.” They hold patents for the drugs created by his Institute.

For instance, the chief gerontologist of St. Petersburg still owns a significant share in the company named Harmony, with a revenue of around 344 million rubles in 2022. He is also listed as a founder in Moscow-based pharmaceutical companies such as Sia Peptides (revenue in 2022 – 820,000 rubles), PeptidePro (revenue in 2022 – 7.7 million rubles), and Telomerase Activation Sciences Research (revenue in 2022 – 19 million rubles).

Telomerase Activation Sciences Research sells its drug in Russian pharmacies for 120 thousand rubles. The pharmaceutical company PeptidePro is a resident of Skolkovo.

Not only Vladimir Khavinson but also his wife Svetlana Trofimova and her brother Alexander are engaged in medical business in St. Petersburg. Siblings own the clinic Drevo Zhizni (“Tree of Life”), which uses developments of the Institute of Bioregulation and Gerontology for treating patients. The clinic’s income for 2022 was 7.1 million rubles.

Vladimir Khavinson and his wife Svetlana Trofimova, 2014. Photo: Professor Khavinson’s website

Vladimir Khavinson also collaborated with well-known Russian pharmaceutical businessmen and their families. Until 2017, the stake in Sia Peptides was owned by members of Igor Rudinsky’s family. Mr. Rudinsky was the owner of the major pharmaceutical distribution company SIA International, who passed away in 2014.

Petr Rodionov, the Minister of Fuel and Energy and Gazprom Deputy Chairman of the Board in the 1990s and early 2000s was another business partner of the gerontologist. Currently, Mr. Rodionov and his family own the Clinic of the Institute of Bioregulation and Gerontology, with a revenue of 148 million rubles in 2022. Petr Rodionov also heads the holding company Heropharm, established by him in 2001, one of the largest pharmaceutical producers in Russia. In 2021, the revenue of Heropharm, according to reports, amounted to 11 billion rubles.

It is Heropharm, Mr. Rodionov’s company, which produces some of the drugs developed by the Institute of Bioregulation and Gerontology.

Khavinson was also associated with another profitable pharmaceutical company, Samson Med, whose annual revenue is over one billion rubles. There, he held the position of Deputy Director for Scientific Work and also organized the sales of his developments, including Thymalin.

How Khavinson became “Putin’s gerontologist” and who will inherit his companies

In an interview with Fontanka in 2017, Vladimir Khavinson noted that the duration of life is influenced not only by special medicine but also by a conscious attitude towards one’s own years and health. As a positive example, Khavinson mentioned President Vladimir Putin.

“Given his background (that he is a master of sports), a proper lifestyle, military education, as far as I know, adherence to a healthy diet, and engagement in physical exercise, his potential is very high. I say this not because I am afraid of anyone. I am an independent person. But he is an example. The potential of our president is brilliant. This is dozens of years, at least twenty years,” said the gerontologist.

Vladimir Khavinson (on the right) during the ceremony of the Order of Friendship award by Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia, in the Kremlin, January 26, 2017. Photo: Administration of the President of Russia (CC BY 4.0)

Although the media refer to Vladimir Khavinson as “Putin’s chief gerontologist,” it is unknown whether the president has used “peptide complexes” or not. However, it isn’t impossible: earlier, the Project media outlet reported on the president’s concern about his health. Journalists found that Vladimir Putin travels with a team of doctors, including a surgical oncologist. According to Project, the president and other members of the Russian political elite are also fond of “velvet antler baths”—a procedure in alternative medicine that uses extract from the antlers of Altai elk.

Vladimir Khavinson himself, by his own admission, actively used the “peptide complexes” he developed for at least 30 years. He claimed that participants of his experiments live up to 90 years and, in some cases, even up to 120.

Vladimir Khavinson passed away on January 5, 2024, at the age of 77. The cause of his death is not disclosed.

It is unknown who will head all the scientific and business projects of Vladimir Khavinson. The Institute of Bioregulation and Gerontology in St. Petersburg is temporarily managed by Olga Mikhailova, Khavinson’s deputy and business partner, co-founder of the companies Harmony and PeptidePro.

The Institute of Bioregulation and Gerontology executives told Paper that a new director would be elected by the founders’ meeting in the near future.

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