The SENS Research Foundation will be seven years old this year. It is one of the very few organizations to aggressively pursue a campaign of research and advocacy aimed at bringing an end to aging and age-related disease, and one of perhaps only two or three at most that focus on rejuvenation research, an approach to the treatment of aging based on repair of the known forms of cell and tissue damage that cause aging. The SENS rejuvenation research project has been very successful over the course of its lifespan to date, moving from nothing more than a vision in the early 2000s to today's network of allied researchers, research programs, new startups, and the first prototype implementations of SENS therapies such as those under development for senescent cell clearance. Over that time the research community has been swayed from its former hostility to any mention of treating aging to much greater support for the goal of enhanced human longevity. To be clear, however, this is still a tiny field. There is a long way to go to produce a SENS research community as large and well supported as the cancer or stem cell research communities.
If you look back a couple of years here at Fight Aging!, you'll find a post on the strategic future of the SENS Research Foundation. The SENS Research Foundation is producing results, persuading researchers, and generating the foundations of new medical technology, and we want to see this successful team continue to achieve its goals. That, however, requires funding. To summarize the older post: half of the $4-5 million yearly budget of the SENS Research Foundation is provided by founder Aubrey de Grey, and those funds come to an end relatively soon. We all owe him a debt of gratitude for what he has achieved in this field with his own money. This is the nature of research and business; every success in finding a source of funding must be treated as a runway and a countdown to the next source of funding.
There are many ways to go from here, and the next decade looks to be a time of great opportunity in funding for longevity science of all sorts, given the large investments that are starting to arrive in the space. Even if, as seems plausible given the recent market activity, we're about to plunge into a couple of years of a bear market, that doesn't dampen the prospects all that much. Given the time taken for any meaningful research effort, the start of a bear market is actually a great time to invest in a research program; it'll just be getting somewhere when the economic picture turns around.
Crowdfunding of scientific research is something that we as a community do quite well. It is a hard problem, and crowdfunding ventures like Experiment are only just starting to make inroads into sustainable platforms. The past few years have seen a slow growth in the community of supporters willing to materially support the SENS Research Foundation every year. So far, as much as a few hundred thousand dollars each year have been raised this way, and I don't see why that number can't keep growing as the public support for longevity science grows.
Investment in SENS Rejuvenation Therapy Startups
Selective, targeted investment worked out very well for the Methuselah Foundation. The Foundation wes an early investor in Organovo a long time back, and that provided a healthy return in the years since. The important thing is to invest in those companies that can also be incubated and supported, so as to provide the best chance of success. The SENS Research Foundation is very well placed to do this. It is in the center of a web of connections to researchers and the Bay Area venture community, and also a source of technologies for new therapies, such as senescent cell and cross-link clearance. The transition from funding a scientific group to seed funding the startup that results from that work is a logical one, and indeed the SENS Research Foundation is already doing this for Oisin Biotechnology and Human Rejuvenation Technologies.
An early stage startup investment is a lottery ticket, of course, even when the investor happens to be well placed to help its progress, but at least it is a lottery ticket that has the side-effect of funding additional research and development regardless of the outcome. Perhaps more important than the risk inherent in any such investment is the timeline: one should expect a biotechnology startup to take five years or longer to come to initial fruition even should it succeed as well as Organovo did. The SENS Research Foundation investments were made last year, so there is a way to go yet.
Deeper Integration with the Non-Profit Funding Ecosystem
A massive non-profit funding ecosystem exists, just as rife with formalism, barriers, and the need for connections as the venture capital ecosystem. There are many different players involved, ranging from high net worth individuals to large foundations to government bodies. Any demonstrably successful non-profit with a yearly budget of only a few million dollars has a lot of room for growth in this space. The folk at the SENS Research Foundation agree, and are looking for a guide:
SENS Research Foundation (SRF) is a 501(c)(3) public charity that is undertaking one of the most ambitious goals in history: ending the human suffering resulting from age-related diseases such as Alzheimer's, diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. Our goal is to apply the principles of regenerative medicine to build a rejuvenation biotechnology industry; what makes us unique is that rather than developing more sophisticated ways to treat disease, we are developing more sophisticated ways to preserve health, and thereby prevent such diseases from ever taking hold.
Since our founding in 2009 we've grown into a significant force for change in medical research. SRF's current annual funding - over $4M - comes roughly one-half from renewable sources and one-half from a multi-year trust which will expire next year. The challenge we now face is to build quickly upon our successes, and to be able to create our truly transformational next generation of research, education and outreach programs without losing momentum. The role of the Head of Major Gifts will be to raise at least $2M/annum in new funding, and to guide us in developing new channels sufficient to create sustainable income of $5-10M/annum, from high net worth individual, foundation, corporate and government sources.
This is a great opportunity for someone coming from a large non-profit, with a packed rolodex and knowledge of the way things work. It represents the option to carve out a name in this space, to become a well-know leader in an organization that is out to change the world for real. There is no greater impact to human life than to speed progress towards the medical control of aging and all age-related disease. It is the largest cause of death and suffering by a wide margin, and every day gained is a hundred thousand lives saved.