Laura Deming has worked with the SENS Research Foundation and others on the molecular biology of aging, and a few years back helped organize the Longevity Fund to invest in startups relevant to the treatment of aging as they emerged. Here is a short interview in which she gives her view of the state of the field in fairly general terms:
Solana: It seems like there's significant resistance to the idea that we don't have to die. Why is that?
Deming: That's an awesome question and one that I'm entirely unqualified to answer. I can give you a bit a background, just from spending most of my life talking to a lot of people who think this is a really terrible idea, and trying to understand why they think that. For the longest time, I think people had been promised these amazing snake oil-like cures, "we're going to make you live forever." "This will make you live longer." And so, I think maybe part of the large inability to believe in this space comes from a history of it being impossible to work on. But if you look at the science, it would only have been possible to work on it recently as a point of fact. And then I think another part of it comes from folks having a large inability to believe that it works, and therefore, in their minds, not allowing themselves to hope for the possibility of living a longer time.
Solana: Who's working to extend longevity? Who's best at it right now? Who's poised to be better at it in the near future?
Deming: There are a couple of very high-profile efforts in this space, that have a lot of funding and public attention. One, of course, is Calico, funded in part by Google. And the other is Human Longevity, Inc., from Craig Venter. What I think a lot of people kind of overlook is that there are hundreds of companies doing interesting research in aging, some subset of which may be successful in a clinic, but are in the early stages of development. These are a lot of companies that have a drug that's a lead candidate, they know what they're targeting, they're about a year away from getting it to people, but they're pre-proof of concept. And so, I think that's the interesting area to watch. It's really difficult to say right now what the interesting companies and that cohort will be, but there are a lot of them that have very solid science.
Solana: Where are we going in the next 10 or 20 years with longevity science?
Deming: I think it's an interesting mix of two different tracks. One is the area of using traditional methods of pharmaceuticals to develop drugs for the genes that we know extend life in mice. There are lots of companies working on drugs that do basically that, but could be used for humans and are going into clinical trials soon, or are in clinical trials currently. But I think, in general, biology has a kind of underlying problem in that it's a very complicated science that's thought of in very linear terms in the drug world. So you have this kind of first-generation, very linear approach of using what we have to do what we can. But then you have kind of the second wave of work trying to figure out how biology actually works and how you can actually talk about these very complex systems in ways that are amenable to human intervention. And that's a process that - we don't know how long it will take to get useful, actionable information out of, but - I think that's where you're going to see a lot of the very long-term increases in lifespan.
Solana: Last question: what about rejuvenation?
Deming: I'd say 50% of the stuff we see is just preventative, and 50% is taking an old thing and trying to make it younger. And I think it's much more difficult to do that, but you're going to see at least a couple therapies in that regard coming along.