Biotechnology and Longevity Science as a Development Strategy

The adoption of high technology endeavors by less developed regions is generally considered a sensible strategy. Developing regions can in theory leapfrog over decades of incremental technological development and start in on the latest and greatest; this worked pretty well in parts of Africa for communications infrastructure, for example. It also makes a great deal of sense to attempt this for fields that are heavily regulated in the US and Europe, and thus very expensive and slow to deliver progress, as developing regions can effectively compete on cost and speed. Medicine is one of the best examples, and you can see this at work in many parts of the world, where a diverse set of efforts are underway to grow medical tourism industries or local medical research communities. It is interesting to see that some of these initiatives are leaning in the direction of targeting healthspan and life span as metrics for success, though given their very bureaucratic, top-down nature I wouldn't hold your breath waiting for useful outcomes. Innovation and technological progress, where it happens, comes from philanthropy and the marketplace, and the best thing that regulators and politicians can do is to get out of the way:

On May 25-26, 2016, there took place at the capital of the Republic of Kazakhstan a global gathering of economic and political elite - the Astana Economic Forum 2016. The speech of Kazakhstan's president made a strong point about the fact that during the 25 years of the country's existence, since its independence in 1991, the average life expectancy of the Kazakhstan people significantly increased, reaching 72 years (compared to about 64 in the early 1990s). This suggested the improving of health and longevity of the population as one of the main parameters of the country's progress.

Going from directives to practice, it transpires that some concrete state-supported steps are now being discussed in Kazakhstan that would be explicitly dedicated to improving the country's healthspan values, via strengthening national biomedical research, development and translation capabilities. A case study has been developed for a global healthspan extension program in Kazakhstan named "The Global Healthspan Extension Initiative". The focus on healthspan extension is warranted by the increasing life expectancy and the corresponding increases in the incidence of aging-related diseases, such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease and neurodegenerative diseases, despite the demonstrated improvements in healthy life expectancy. Reducing these non-communicable diseases is a key priority.

The aim of the program would be to "create a translation biotech hub (not just for basic research) in Kazakhstan with a primary focus on personalized and precision medicine. We intend to build a translation engine to drive massive biomedical innovation into the country." The underlying idea is that it may be difficult for Kazakhstan to quickly reach the advanced research and development capabilities of the current leaders in the field by following in their footsteps. But it may be easier to "leapfrog" them - to create the favorable regulatory environment and incentives to rapidly draw in and help realize the most advanced research and development ideas that are currently struggling against various "brick walls" and "glass ceilings" in theirs countries of origin. "We will perform the meta-analysis and selection of advanced and emerging technologies in the field of healthspan extension, considering their potential efficacy and safety, with the aim to solve social and economic issues." The architects of this initiative envision an end to the entrenched dichotomy between the "developing" vs. "developed" countries, but anticipated a new distinction between "innovative" and "less-innovative" countries.



While it's already a developed country, I've always thought a solution to Japan's low birth-rate demographic death spiral would be heavy investment in longevity research. Japan isn't getting new workers due to low birthrates and immigration policy, so it seems a logical solution would be to increase the healthy/productive part of life for existing workers. The Japanese are always looking for infrastructure to invest in to stimulate their economy anyway, so it would have that benefit too.

Posted by: KC at June 11th, 2016 12:19 AM

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