Those in the audience who have been members of this community for a while will know that the Methuselah Foundation has long acted as a form of incubator for biotechnology startups relevant to healthy life extension, albeit as a non-profit organization rather than the more usual for-profit incubator structure. The organization has undertaken this role in addition to funding some of the most promising research efforts in the field, such as the SENS rejuvenation biotechnology projects. This incubator work hasn't involved a large number of startups in total, since we are not yet either a vast or a wealthy community when considered in the grand scheme of things, and it is the case that the Methuselah Foundation is powered by our charitable donations. Nonetheless, with our support in past years, the Methuselah Foundation helped to launch the noted bioprinting company Organovo, and provided seed funding for Oisin Biotechnologies, pioneering a programmable gene therapy approach to clearance of senescent cells. Another company presently in the early stages of being shepherded by the Methuselah Foundation is Leucadia Therapeutics, working on a novel approach to clearing metabolic waste from the aged brain. There is a demonstrated track record of success here, moving in parallel to the progress in longevity science that has taken place in the laboratory.
The future isn't just a matter of funding research in non-profit organizations - at some point the leap must be made to a company and for-profit development. Given the growth in interest and funding for the treatment of aging as a medical condition that has taken place in recent years, and given that a number of professional venture funds dedicated to longevity science startups are now emerging, it is time for the Methuselah Foundation to formalize its efforts as a non-profit incubator of startups and pull in more philanthropic funding to help advance the state of the art. Hence David Gobel, Sergio Ruiz, and the other busy folk at the Methuselah Foundation have been working hard these past months to put together the Methuselah Fund. This initiative is tailored to the way that the Methuselah Foundation works with companies, an effective approach that has advanced the state of the field and moved us closer to the era of functional, widely available rejuvenation treatments. It is a novel fund structure, somewhat different from traditional investment vehicles, as much focused on the philanthropic mission as on the goal of producing increased value. This means Methuselah Foundation funding and guidance for the most promising science and scientific groups, to help them reach the point at which they can and should launch a company, followed by Methuselah Fund assistance in the business and venture worlds to help to make that company a success.
The Methuselah Fund is also tailored for the people in our community, those of us who have over the years gained the ability and willingness to donate or invest a few tens of thousands of dollars or more, but who cannot undertake the risk of investing in startups directly. The Methuselah Fund is presently open to anyone in our community who can make that level of commitment to support this expansion of non-profit work, not just professional investors. If you are a member of the Methuselah 300, you can complete your philanthropic pledge of $25,000 by putting the balance of pledged funds into the Methuselah Fund. This is not a standard venture fund, but like most venture funds it has a set lifespan, running until 2030. That is 13 years to achieve great things along the way by investing in and supporting the growth of companies that are pursuing the SENS vision of clearing out or repairing the molecular damage that causes aging and age-related disease - and not just by investing, but by actively helping these companies to succeed at every step along the way. When it comes to research and development for the treatment of aging and there are few networks as good as those surrounding the Methuselah Foundation and their allies, such as the SENS Research Foundation and other similar organizations.
Is Fight Aging! putting money into the Methuselah Fund? Yes, that is underway. I, like most people past the first few decades of life, have savings that become more or less accessible for use depending on the level of risk involved and the degree to which it is for profit investment versus philanthropic donation. Funding startups, as I have done of late, a little, is the most risky activity one can undertake. While it is technically for profit, it is far easier to think of it in the same way as a charitable donation to a research non-profit: it goes to fund a specific line of research, that is the primary goal, and anything more than that is pleasant but not expected. One shouldn't put money into startups that one cannot afford to lose. An structure like the Methuselah Fund will eventually be diversified across a number of companies, however, and therefore grow less risky over time. As an initiative that invests in startups, excellent track record of the Methuselah Foundation notwithstanding, its for-profit component still bears considerably more risk than the sort of diversified investments a good portfolio manager will tell you adopt - but no-one lives forever. Yet. If this interests you, by all means ask the Methuselah Foundation folk for a prospectus; when reading it, pay close attention to the way in which this is structured, and how that differs from the usual sort of venture fund. Contact information can be found in the interview below.
Tell us a little about the motivations here. Why the Methuselah Fund, and why now?
We want to accelerate mission results. As you know, Methuselah Foundation has been working hard during the last 16 years to extend the healthy human lifespan. We have long had the self-imposed goal of making 90 the new 50 by 2030 - it helps to inspire a sense of urgency appropriate to the great level of harm caused by aging. Since we now have only 13 years left to achieve this lofty but attainable goal, we will use an investment fund as a means to add fuel to the fire. Having this financial arm will allow us to exert our influence with companies with ground-breaking technology and approaches to medical issues, turning them towards the same mission as we have. Our ultimate goal is to make new medical treatments readily available to the public, as fast as possible, and thereby extending the healthy human lifespan.
Thus we are constructing a fund that will make it easier for companies to extend the healthy human life span. Unfortunately, history has shown it is often the case that when a venture capital approach is taken to increasing human longevity, the companies involved are required by the investors to pivot away from their original mission of treating aging and instead focus on an "FDA approved" disease such as cancer or type 2 diabetes. We want to avoid those outcomes. We do not believe in covenants that unduly restrict a company from going after therapies to treat the causes of aging. Beyond that, we are guided by Benefit Corporation principles, allowing us to create benefit for all stakeholders, not just the shareholders. This set of principles also gives us an expanded purpose beyond maximizing per-share value; we explicitly include general and specific public benefit. For example, if it makes better sense for a company to be merged in order to achieve our mission by 2030 and give up the potential for a billion dollar unicorn because it might kill the mission, we will prefer the mission. Unlike traditional venture capital, we are not afraid to leave a little money on the table when it benefits the real end goal of achieving more healthy life.
Why now? Because time is pressing. There are only 13 years left until 2030: 13 years to make 90 year-olds feel like they are 50 again. It is time to accelerate progress via the Methuselah Fund. The idea for this type of fund has been around for several years now. However, for it to be successful several things needed to happen, principally 1) emergence of an organization with a proven track record, 2) the development of a more mature view of longevity as a field of investment by the investment community. The Methuselah Foundation now has a significant tract record of positive investments (such as Organovo and Silverstone). These investments as a whole have been both mission-critical and highly profitable. That, compounded with leading the founding rounds of investments in Oisin Biotechnologies and Leucadia Therapeutics, has increased our investment experience and solidified our networks in the venture and scientific communities. Further, the investment community has matured, and events such as the founding of Apollo Ventures and the large investment in UNITY Biotechnology show that it is time to help steer the field to maximize progress towards our goal of far greater health in old age.
What are some of the irons you have in the fire at the moment?
The Methuselah Fund is our main iron in the fire at the moment and we are getting good traction. From a start-up standpoint, we are focusing our attention on two companies with the technology and knowledge to revolutionize their parts of the medical industry in ways relevant to our mission: Oisin Biotechnologies and Leucadia Therapeutics. We are constantly looking through the noise in search of the next shrewd investments, of course.
You've had a ringside seat and often a key role in many of the changes to happen in the aging research community this past fifteen years. What is your take on where things will go as we approach 2020?
Our hope is that as we approach and then pass 2020 we will start to see more products and treatments arriving in clinics via routes that circumvent the traditionally long, expensive, and heavily regulated paths to market, such as via medical tourism. Once this gets underway in any meaningful fashion, medical products of all sorts will have the added pressure of competitors being delivered in a fraction of the time, but with greater efficacy than ever before. Investors will finally see that investing in drugs that take decades to show returns is a bad business, and the whole house of cards will start to be dismantled into favor of something better. Given this process, everyday people will reap the benefits of: 1) cost savings due to a shorter incubation time for new products and 2) treatments arriving soon enough to matter for those who need them. Beyond 2020, we certainly hope to see new treatments that focus on preventing disease rather than merely patching it over: a medical reactionary culture will be overtaken by one of progressive better forms of prevention.
How will Methuselah Foundation change going forward, now that it is paired with Methuselah Fund?
The Methuselah Foundation will continue to organize research prizes and issue research grants as it has always done, with a focus on groups that can be aided in reaching the stage of commercial development. However, with the addition of the Methuselah Fund we will now have a powerful catalytic tool for our long-term mission, one that will bring in new resources and help to expand the breadth of these efforts.
You've often expressed a guiding vision for rejuvenation therapies of "clearing out the junk"; what does this mean in practice?
There are the scientific goals that, when reached as a whole, will make longer healthier human lifespans possible - see the SENS vision. We believe in making our goals easily understandable by all humans, however, since the cause of longer, healthier lives needs the backing of not just the scientific community but every one of us. The goal you mentioned is plain and simple: "Get the Crud Out". We call it "Crud" and not just "Junk" to make a point... no one likes crud! As we age, our bodies are weighed down by inefficiencies that create a slew of side-effects like inflammation and malfunctioning cells: this is easily understood. With "Get the Crud Out" we can cover the safe removal of senescent cells, broken mitochondria, and other destructive biological structures, as well as clearing out the various forms of waste products and byproducts (amyloid, lipofusin, cross-links, etc). That one goal covers a wide range of what we need to accomplish, makes the point, and expresses it simply enough to be a rallying slogan.
Among our other goals, which are equally important are: "New Parts for People," covering technologies such as bioprinting that will create new organs, bones, and vasculature; "Restore the Rivers," working to restore the circulatory system to full youthful competence and thus remove that contribution to conditions such as dementia and heart disease; "Debug the Code," to restore the informational integrity and viability of cells; "Restock the Shelves," investing in processes that replenish or restore stem cell and immune system populations; "Lust for Life," initiatives that restore the capacity for joy and resilience via rejuvenated senses and bodies. After all, what good would it be to live for hundreds of years without happiness, joy, and the fully functioning biology needed for both of those?
What can we in the community do to help make Methuselah Fund a success?
We are presently in the initial funding phase of the Methuselah Fund... the Founders' Round. We would love to talk to those who have the capacity to help back this exciting venture, or who know those who can. Interested parties can let us know and we will reach out with further details: please contact Sergio Ruiz at firstname.lastname@example.org.