I had an interesting discussion yesterday with someone we shall describe, for the sake of brevity, as an investment scout for a venture fund. It was reassuring to see - once again - that the venture investment community, like other communities, has its share of pro-healthy life extension members. Like many of us, the scout wonders how best to speed progress towards longer, healthier lives within the present set of working constraints.
All in all, it was a good counterpoint to my personal focus on modern science and its many-faced relationships with the goal of extending the healthy human life span. I tend to move my attention away from areas in which there is a great deal of momentum and support - cancer research, or stem cell research in the past year, for example. My activities as a commentator and advocate would be largely superfluous for these branches of science, and certainly less effective than larger and more practiced groups. (I'm still eagerly awaiting this state of affairs to transpire for healthy life extension research - I'll be delighted to see more individuals and groups out there doing a better job than I am ... and yes, that was a challenge). For the investment scout, however, fields with momentum are the most promising; they generate more early stage companies and more successful later stage investment opportunities. In contrast, a field without momentum is probably at least five years from commecialization, it it heads that way at all - hence not all that interesting to most private investors because they have other, more rapidly maturing opportunities to choose from.
Giving high level venture investment advice is just common sense based on an extrapolation of what you know (and what you know about your own level of knowledge; anyone can give an opinion, but how useful is it?). Imagine yourself with $10 million and the constraint that you have to aim at a good rate of return - what fields would you invest in? The rate of return requirement immediately rules out most of the uses I would normally come up with, but I'm biased towards philanthropic approaches to early stage advocacy and education in healthy life extension - which may also go some way towards explaining why I must imagine my hypothetical investment money. In any case, here are my thoughts in brief:
- Commercialization of stem cell research is the obvious area of investment, whether in the US or not. It is a very active field, clearly going to bring enormous benefits to patients, advances our knowledge of cellular biochemistry and processes - which is a very good thing in and of itself - and addresses the first of the seven pillars of SENS.
- Companies working on calorie restriction mimetics and related forms of metabolic tinkering are currently a viable choice for investment, but I wouldn't choose to put money into this area. I think it's helpful work - which adds useful knowledge about our cellular processes, just like stem cell research - but it's just a stepping stone. Unlike stem cell research, it's also much less effective as a late-life therapy; to get the best benefit from a metabolic tweak, you would have to have it your entire life.
- Therapies based on repair or replacement of mitochondria will be hot in the next few years - the science is close to commercialization for at least one or two teams. A number of age-related diseases can plausibly be targeted by these therapies, allowing an approach through FDA and other regulatory hurdles, and they address another of the forms of age-related cellular damage noted in the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence.
- Companies presently making the tools for the next generation of nanotechnology are a good investment if you want short term returns and long-term effects. The tools of non-medical ("dry") nanotechnology are in demand for present applications, but will be increasingly used as the basis for medical ("wet") nanotechnology over the next ten years. Bioinformatics, biotechnology and nanotechnology will converge to form the new discipline of nanomedicine - something a good deal more impressive than the drug delivery and diagnostics work that currently goes by that name. This convergence will be accomplished by groups who find ways to use the tools of dry nanotechnology to build truly advanced nanomedical applications, such as mass-produced nanomedical robots or superior artifical blood cells.