UPDATE 05/21/2011: The Vegas Group initiative launched soon after this post, and was quickly renamed to Open Cures, with a new website and a new mailing list. Please do drop by and take a look at what we're working on.
Elsewhere, in the land of wishful thinking:
The Vegas Group came together formally sometime in 2016, though the first kick-off meeting was the year prior at one of the bi-annual conventions for longevity research held in California. ... The Vegas Group was a natural outgrowth of a decade of advocacy and anticipation for human enhancement technologies, coupled with the frustrating realization that no such technologies would be meaningfully developed, never mind made available to the public, under the regulatory regimes then in place in the US and Europe. ... by 2017 the direct action contingent of the Vegas Group consisted of about a hundred people all told. Their declared objective was a distributed collaborative effort to (a) develop human versions of the most successful longevity and metabolic enhancements demonstrated in mice, and (b) cultivate hospitable medical groups in the Asia-Pacific countries.
It is clear to me that this sort of strategy will be (and is) very necessary as a part of the process of pushing the bounds of medical technology - which is advancing nowhere near as rapidly as it might be. Stunning progress in the laboratory doesn't translate into stunning progress in the clinic, and this is because of the oppressive shroud of regulation weighing down the entire industry. Can you imagine a world in which it took ten years and a government agency to clear the latest innovations in processors and hard drives? We'd still be stuck with 70s-era computers, and paying ten times the price. Yet in medicine, this is exactly the situation we find ourselves in; a worse product, slow progress, and massive expense.
By way of a reminder, it is illegal in the US to commercially develop and market medical technologies for the purpose of slowing or reversing aging. I'll stop to let that sink in for a moment, for those of you who didn't know this. The unelected and largely unaccountable bureaucrats of the FDA do not recognize aging as a disease, therefore will not approve any treatment for aging - and so anyone who forges ahead to try it will be shut down and prosecuted. If you ever wondered why, in this age of remarkable advances and plummeting costs in biotechnology, there are not a thousand startup companies striking out to take on aging itself ... well, this is why.
Pushing change through the FDA is a glacial and very expensive process of lobbying - a political process, naturally, which must be well lubricated with money that would be far better spent on research. This is what it is: essentially corrupt, utterly hostile to progress, a system in which the incentives are for regulators to cause delay and obstruction. Absent a revolution, a broken system of governance should be avoided and worked around, not engaged. When you engage with that broken system, all you are doing is propping it up and legitimizing its existence while it has its way with you.
So I have been pondering how best to make the vision of the Vegas Group a reality: what steps do we take so that we wake up six or seven years from now to an open source biotech community whose members are working on enabling the best longevity therapies produced by the formal research community - and who have the overseas connections to enable responsible use of resulting therapies in a clinical setting. The social and regulatory change required to make this happen legally in the US is so great - and so contrary to the present downward spiral towards more government and greater regulation in every aspect of life - that from where I stand, efforts are better directed towards progress in biotechnology.
So what components are needed to move this from pipe dream to reality? In no particular order:
- An open repository of technical information: a Wikipedia of longevity biotechnology and published research, a resource built by a community into a how-to for specific techniques in longevity science.
- Persuading a sizable segment of the present open biotech community into finding this grand project interesting enough to support, and interesting enough to work on.
- Bootstrapping a community of project supporters large enough to raise funding, hold conferences, and become self-sustaining.
In many ways, I see this sort of thing as the answer to "what comes next after the SENS Foundation?" When the SENS Foundation is forging through the waves five years from now, making progress and getting things done in repairing the biochemical damage of aging, what are the new and energetic research-focused organizations springing up at that time? How are they organized? What are their strategies for turning this growing sea of practical possibilities for repairing aging into therapies for humans?
I see the SENS Foundation and similarly focused organizations as covering the mainstream approach to science, which is to say it will be a slow process moving from working results in the laboratory to therapies in humans. By the very nature of the Foundation, its legitimacy in the eyes of people that matter, the ones writing the checks, depends on going through the established system of research and regulation, FDA and all. That is their fight.
I don't believe that we can afford to wait for the additional ten years or however many years it requires to win that fight, however. Not if there are other options on the table that may enable us to move faster. The Vegas Group approach is one such option: take the knowledge and techniques published by the research community into open biotech communities and overseas laboratories for further development, work them up to a level at which people are comfortable with the risks, and try them out. You get things done by getting things done.
After all, these are our lives. Ours. We are not serfs, to be the property of faceless bureaucrats in the FDA. We can choose our own risks, just as many open biotech enthusiasts would choose to work on biotechnologies of rejuvenation that will ultimately benefit all of humanity. Unless we get this sorted out, the only thing ahead of us is pain, suffering, and death.