The latest Google Ventures annual report has a third of new investments going to the life sciences and health in the past year. This is of interest principally in the context of Calico Labs and its focus on finding ways to treat aging. This interview provides a little more insight into motivations and goals - such as a strong focus on genetics as a path ahead, something that I think, unfortunately, is going to greatly limit the practical outcomes of these initiatives in terms of years of healthy life added.
Genetics and metabolic studies will broadly improve medicine and drive the creation of new and better tools in biotechnology, as does all new knowledge. Yet we all age in the same way and due to the same underlying processes: genetics are not a big factor in the grand scheme of things, and really only play a larger role in the end stages of aging, the faltering and failure of a very damaged biological system. Alteration of genetic programs and the operation of our metabolism to slow aging is not easy and not the best way forward: the optimistic best near future outcome of drugs that can modestly slow aging is of next to no use to people already old. The best way forward for treating aging is to work on SENS-like strategies of repair of the known forms of cellular and molecular damage that cause aging so as to build actual, working rejuvenation treatments that stop people from being old at all. This is a completely different strategic approach to medicine to that taken by the community focused on the overlap of genetics and aging, but one that has yet to gain the support it merits:
Calico was my idea. I'm super proud of it. It came from a thesis I had that no one was studying aging at the genetic level. What is aging, versus the diseases we associate with aging. Say you have cancer, you have this broad thing we call cancer, we're going to irradiate you, and pump this poisonous material into you and hope more of the bad stuff dies than the good. That is going to seem so medieval when we can fix it on a genetic level, and foundation medicine are the first steps to diagnosing it on a genetic level. Not just, you have breast cancer, but what exactly is going on in the that tumor. That is step one. You can see the path ahead to personalize medicine for people.
New ideas are scary. If you said to most people in 1900, would you like to live to be 100, they would have said no thank you, it seems to so unimaginably bad. Now people expect to live to be 70 or 80, and if you asked if they wanted to live to 100 most would probably say yes. Now ask them if they want to live to 200 and most would say, I don't know about that. But the reality is if you were going to die tomorrow and someone offered you another 10 years, most people would take those 10 years. And the beauty of it is you can always opt out. If you don't that extra time, you can always opt out of the system, but I don't have an interest in opting out of the system, nor do I want the people that I love opting out. It's not about scary immortality. What if your grandmother didn't have to die of congestive heart failure or some debilitating stroke where she can't move half her body? Wouldn't that be a good thing? I find that generally when I can talk to people about it and take some of the scary unknown away it becomes less intimidating.