Today I’ll point out a couple of short interviews on the topic of investment in the longevity industry. This industry is young and still quite small, taking its present shape over the last five years or so. There are a little more than a hundred companies in the industry, a dozen venture funds that make significant numbers of investments, and – as of yet – no approved drugs emerged from phase III trials. Most programs are still at a preclinical stage of development. From the archly conservative perspective of Big Pharma and the largest established biotech venture funds, this whole endeavor remains an experiment in its early stages.
Nonetheless, more nimble and visionary concerns are definitely taking notice, and a considerable influx of entrepreneurs and capital is underway. It is now quite challenging to keep track of the new companies arriving on the scene from quarter to quarter. Numerous new venture funds are setting up shop, focused specifically on the longevity industry, and existing funds are shifting their strategies to include this space. Most of the new investors I’ve spoken to, while fundraising for Repair Biotechnologies, or at conferences, are motivated as much by the prospect of improving the human condition, of bringing aging under medical control, as by returns on investment.
Having now gone through several significant investment rounds, Eric Marcotulli, CEO of Elysium Health is ideally positioned to comment on whether investors are yet seeing longevity as an investment category and we raised this with him during our recent interview. Considering the question, he recalls seeing Elizabeth Blackburn, a Nobel Prize winner for her work on telomeres, giving a talk on investment. “She said if she walked up and down Sand Hill Road saying that her work had discovered the cure for a very specific form of cancer, she would probably be able to get a blank check from anybody she sat with. But if she walked in there and said her work could potentially impact on cancer, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and so on, she’d be laughed out of the room. And I think that was a really great encapsulation of the State of the Union, not just on her research, but on aging itself.”
Marcotulli concurs that much of the investment community is perhaps “a little behind” when it comes to longevity and anti-aging, although he points out that there are those who are ahead of the field. “Those types of people will have the ultimate advantage. But, broadly speaking, the investor community thinks the way that consumers and patients think. At the end of the day they want to see the data so that, in less than 10 seconds, they can see what the benefit of the products your company are developing will be. We’ve made great progress in identifying and agreeing the key pillars of aging. However, what we still haven’t shown conclusively, especially in humans, is are there discrete impacts, how interconnected they are, are certain ones more or greater contributors than others? And, more importantly, how do we measure the impact of changes to the different processes, what does it take to actually change those processes, and what does changing those processes mean?”
What is the so-called “Longevity Hype”?
Back in 2013, Silicon Valley tech giant Google promised the world that it will solve the problem of death. We have entered a new decade now, however, in my opinion, the progress in actual, practical life extension of humans is not far away from where it was back in 2013. There is lots of positive hype on the subject: many people ranging from the general public to scientists, entrepreneurs and investors are confident that we are on the brink of creating actual human life extension techniques which will soon translate into real-world, accessible applications. These claims need to be validated and a set of guidelines used to help separate hype from reality around this hypothesis in a concrete, logical and tangible way.
There has been tangible progress in the field, though?
Absolutely. A number of longevity-focused scientists have achieved a rather significant progress over the last decade with respect to stalling the aging process and in some cases even rejuvenation (restoring a young phenotype) in certain model organisms such as yeast, worms, flies and mice, including Maria Blasco and colleagues managing to extend the lifespan of mice by 24% by breeding a set of chimeric mice using embryonic stem cells with telomeres twice as long as usual.
So what happens next?
Undoubtedly, gaining a sufficient understanding of the nature of human aging and longevity as well as the necessary scope of technologies required for practical human life extension to the point of achieving Longevity Escape Velocity (the point where more years are added onto the human lifespan than are taken away due to aging) would require substantial resources. However, compared with the amount of funds being spent even on general aging research, not to mention the myriad of diseases that have their root causes in aging, we are not talking about unthinkable numbers. We estimate that $100bn per year over 10 years would be more than enough to get a real understanding and implementation of the technologies necessary for practical extension of healthy human longevity, which is vastly less than the amounts currently being spent on cancer research or on FinTech, for example.