Good advocacy can consist of a few bold actions that attract attention and make waves: if done well those waves can take on a life of their own. Making large wagers for this purpose has a long history, as money has a certain gravity when it comes to gathering interest from people on the sidelines. Indeed, the benefits provided by research prizes - which is to say an acceleration of progress while attraction new attention to a field of scientific endeavor - accrue for many of the same reasons. If you can engineer a way to legitimately talk about a large amount of money in connection with a cause you support, then you should do so. People will talk, and that is very much the point of the exercise.
Below you'll find a report of a recent act of advocacy for the cause of longevity science. To the degree that it succeeds it of course also benefits the folk involved and their business ventures, but deservedly so I think. There is more than enough biotechnology investment money floating around in this world to fully fund numerous approaches to human rejuvenation a dozen times over without blinking, were there the interest and the will to do so. The archetype of ending aging, the SENS research programs, could run to completion for a billion dollars or so, for example, to produce working demonstrations of all necessary repair therapies in laboratory mice. That much is spent on advancing a single convincing drug candidate these days. Success in bringing an end to degenerative aging is thus really more a matter of convincing people to pay attention than anything else. The science is ready to roll on at a rapid pace, but the funding and the public support for these initiatives lags far behind:
Dmitry Kaminskiy, senior partner of Hong Kong-based technology venture fund, Deep Knowledge Ventures, and Dr. Alex Zhavoronkov, PhD, CEO of bioinformatics company Insilico Medicine Inc. which specializes in drug discovery and drug repurposing for aging and age-related diseases, signed a wager to indicate exactly how sure they are that science is turning the tide against the eternal problem of human aging: If one of the parties passes away before the other, $1 million dollars in Insilico Medicine stock will be passed to the surviving party. The agreement will vest once both parties reach 100 years.
"Longevity competitions may be a great way to combat both psychological and biological aging," Dr. Zhavoronkov emailed me. "I hope that we will start a trend." He sees longevity bets catching on around the world, and thinks if people will embrace competition to live longer, they may leave behind a global culture that largely accepts aging and human death as a given. Kaminskiy agrees. "I would really like to make similar bets with Bill Gates, Elon Musk or Mark Zuckerberg so they could live longer lives and create great products, but I don't think they will be worthy competitors on longevity," he wrote me in an email. "But I would like to challenge Sergey Brin and Larry Page to a similar competition due to their seemingly high interest in the sphere and Calico project."
The last two years have seen the creation of major anti-aging companies, such as Google's Calico and J. Craig Venture's new San Diego-based genome sequencing start-up Human Longevity Inc., (co-founded with Peter Diamandis of the X-Prize Foundation and stem cell pioneer Robert Hariri) which already has 70 million dollars in financing. Billionaires like Larry Ellison and Peter Thiel are also funding research into longevity science.
If the bet between Kaminsky and Zharvorokov seems a like a way to generate publicity hype for longevity science, that's because it is. But like many other longevity leaders, they are not in this to for money or fame. They are doing this for a singular and extremely human reason: They don't want to die. And they want others to know that - in the 21st Century, an age spilling over with new radical science, medicine, and technology - they might not have to either. "Technology is evolving so fast," Kaminskiy said, "that I have no doubt that we will be able to live centuries instead of decades."
At some point, as I've been saying for far too long now, a meaningful number of people with a lot of money will come to realize that they can spend that money to obtain many more years of healthy, vigorous life. Rejuvenation research will begin to look like a very sane investment to people with a great deal of wealth to invest. Things will become interesting in the years following that awakening, to say the least.