Biomedical Progress and Economic Growth

Researcher Alex Zhavoronkov of the Biogerontology Research Foundation has been somewhat focused on the economic side of aging research in recent years. You might look over his work on the International Aging Research Portfolio, that tracks worldwide funding in this field, and his recently published book, entitled "The Ageless Generation: How Advances in Biomedicine Will Transform the Global Economy", to pick two examples.

Zhavoronkov sent me a note today to point out a new paper in which he and his co-author take a look at relationships between biomedical research and development and economic growth. I should note that a part of the context in which this paper exists is that this is an age of political angst over the intersection of spending, entitlements, pensions, and growing longevity, characterized by the growing sense that politicians and bureaucrats have engineered a catastrophe from what should be the unmitigated benefit of longer healthy lives. Much has been sold down the river for short term gains claimed by a few. Thus there are many in the community who feel that presenting human rejuvenation as a potential solution to a future of centralized, ever-more-costly healthcare will go some way towards attracting the greater attention and funding that is needed for faster progress towards defeating the diseases and degeneration of aging.

For my money, I think that fiscal disaster on a national scale is a political problem with political solutions - you can't solve the fall of a government through overspending with biotechnology. Those at the top will just find other ways to waste and steal. However, the examination of links between aging, longevity, advancing biotechnology, and economic growth is valid and useful in and of itself. It is an interesting field, says much about what the sort of work we should be funding, and doesn't receive the level of attention that it should. Zhavoronkov had this to say:

I think that this is possibly the most important paper I have published so far. We are showing that the economy will grow if governments focus on supporting long-term basic science projects like SENS that are focused on increasing productive longevity and re-focusing the healthcare spending on extending productive life.

The paper is open access, albeit in PDF format only, so take a look:

Biomedical Progress Rates as New Parameters for Models of Economic Growth in Developed Countries

While the doubling of life expectancy in developed countries during the 20th century can be attributed mostly to decreases in child mortality, the trillions of dollars spent on biomedical research by governments, foundations and corporations over the past sixty years are also yielding longevity dividends in both working and retired population. Biomedical progress will likely increase the healthy productive lifespan and the number of years of government support in the old age.

In this paper we introduce several new parameters that can be applied to established models of economic growth: the biomedical progress rate, the rate of clinical adoption and the rate of change in retirement age. The biomedical progress rate is comprised of the rejuvenation rate (extending the productive lifespan) and the non-rejuvenating rate (extending the lifespan beyond the age at which the net contribution to the economy becomes negative).

We propose a model that takes into account progress in the biomedical sciences, which in turn affects the size, growth and productivity of the population. In the model, the rate of biomedical progress is the sum of the rejuvenation rate, the rate at which the functions required to perform useful work that were lost to aging or disease are restored, and non-rejuvenating rate, which increases lifespan, but does not restore lost functions.

We hypothesize that, over the past two decades, economic growth in the developed countries has been partially defined by the ratio of the rejuvenation rate to the overall biomedical progress rate and the retirement age. The biomedical progress rate extends the lifespan and decreases the mortality rates of the population, while the rejuvenation rate allows for the increased productivity of older workers and increases in the retirement age.

We propose that the increase in the ratio of the rejuvenation rate to the overall biomedical progress rate will result in economic growth. This hypothesis is supported by recent studies showing that the acceleration of aging research focused on increasing longevity and postponing age-related diseases and not the treatment of age-related diseases. Another source of economic growth may come from accelerating the rate of clinical adoption by reducing the time it takes for a biomedical discovery to reach the patient.

The effects of population aging on economic growth remains a controversial topic in macroeconomics with conflicting schools of thought. While there are many models and simulations that account for population aging, the new parameters introduced in this paper may help enrich the models demonstrating both positive and negative effects of aging on the economy and help model scenarios that go beyond extending historic trends in longevity.

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