I was reminded of the Maximum Life Foundation today, the brainchild of David Kekich, who you might recognize from the donor list for the MPrize for anti-aging research and his sponsorship of the Immortality Institute film, Exploring Life Extension. Kekich aims to craft a vehicle, a form of investment fund, to bridge the gap that presently exists between real anti-aging science, commercialization, and venture capital - a gap I touched on in a recent post. From the Maximum Life Foundation website:
Historically, significant financing for biomedical technologies in the U.S. has come from government-related and other private non-profit sources. Over time, the changing political economy has led to a shortfall of these traditional funding sources . This is especially true for life extension technologies targeted at maximizing longevity while maintaining a high quality of living.
For a while, private equity venture capital fund managers perceived this trend as an opportunity for venture capital placements. Some prominent successes have been achieved. However, this biomedical sector generally could not keep pace with the high returns obtained in ever decreasing time periods in other non-regulated (or less regulated) technology sectors.
Most venture funds, for example, have become increasingly impatient to harvest returns from their investments, many expecting an "exit" within only 2-4 years. This trend has been adverse for many biomedical technologies, since they generally have a much longer gestation cycle than communications, electronics or information technologies. In addition, many biomedical technologies require regulatory approvals, which further increases development costs and lengthens the investment cycle.
This is a real problem for the commercialization of longevity or real anti-aging research today. You either need philanthropic investors with a much longer time horizon and level of commitment to the end goal, or you need novel investment models that garner good enough backing, management and reputation to both lock up money for longer and deliver good returns over that longer time frame. At root, the problem is regulation - something that can only lead to slow progress, high costs and poor results. Here, you see part of the mechanisms that lead to this sorry result; when laws are created to make it hard and expensive to achieve worthwhile goals, then investment funds will pour away into other less regulated fields.