The Undoing Aging conference is coming up later this month in Berlin, the latest in a long series of conferences focused initially on the science and later on commercial development of SENS rejuvenation biotechnology. In addition to prominent researchers from many parts of the field, this year we'll see a much greater presence of startup companies and investors. The first legitimate rejuvenation therapies, those based on the SENS model of periodic repair of the cell and tissue damage that causes aging, have reached the stage of clinical development. Some of the companies are a few years old now. More will arrive in the years ahead, as support for this cause grows.
The Undoing Aging conference is co-hosted by the SENS Research Foundation and the Forever Healthy Foundation. The former we're all familiar with by now, I'd hope, as an umbrella organization that coordinates and funds a wide range of scientific programs to unblock important lines of rejuvenation research. The latter is investor and philanthropist Michael Greve's non-profit organization. You might recall his support for the SENS Research Foundation in past years of fundraising; in 2016 he pledged $10 million to SENS rejuvenation research programs and the startups that will emerge from those programs. Hosting Undoing Aging is a part of his continued material support for SENS research and the development of practical near-future rejuvenation therapies. Here the Life Extension Advocacy Foundation volunteers interview Michael Greve on his work and his views on the field.
You have spoken about your own advocacy efforts. How you think the public's perception of the subject has changed over the years?
In general, public opinion has already changed significantly over the past two or three years. Nowadays, you read much more often and positively on extending the healthy human lifespan. I firmly believe that once the first working rejuvenation therapy is out there, the whole discussion will immediately change. It will turn from abstract arguments about over-population and such to a very personal one. Do I want to live twenty more years in good health or not? At that point, I guess nobody will say, "Well no, I won't use that treatment and rather get cancer because of, you know, overpopulation." So, the best thing we can all work on is to make this very first therapy happen and then really promote it.
Many people in our community are hoping to see more wealthy people engaged because they have more resources at their disposal and could have a greater impact by donating even a small share of their wealth. However, we don't see that happening much. What messages might be more convincing to these wealthy people? Are they any different from what we usually say when we are trying to convince someone?
Large-scale philanthropy in a very early market such as rejuvenation biotech is hard and only for a few very forward-thinking individuals. I think the most straightforward and effective message to rich people, in general, is to show them a way to become even richer. I see the acceleration of the development of actual rejuvenation therapies as a three-stage process. First, motivate scientists to enter the field and work on the underlying science, then spin out promising research results as early as possible into fundable startups and finally bring in private capital to fuel development of the actual therapies. This last step will allow those high net-worth individuals to both put their money to good use and benefit from it at the same time.
That is why we are organizing the Undoing Aging conference, funding basic research and working hard to move promising research into fundable startups, allowing private capital to fuel the journey from there on. In terms of startups, we have done this already a few times and are seeing a lot of positive effects there.
What do you expect out of UA2018? What do you expect it to impact the most? Public awareness, investors' interest, or networking among scientists?
First and foremost, we are focussed on the science itself. We want to provide a platform for the existing scientific community that already works on damage repair and strengthens the community itself. At the same time, Undoing Aging offers interested scientists and students a first-hand understanding of the current state of affairs to attract new scientists to our exciting field. Apart from that, we have invited the broader longevity community to enable extended networking and support all advocates that do public work. Since we have a lot of interest from journalists, bloggers and several TV stations, there is going to be a public aspect as well. So, yes, you could say it's networking on all levels to advance our cause.
Are there any plans to make Undoing Aging into an annual event?
Yes, we are in this for the long run. This year, we have already received so much positive feedback and even more registrations than we expected. That is very encouraging.
Many people are concerned about affordability. Do you imagine that governments will necessarily have to step in and subsidise rejuvenation therapies that are otherwise difficult to afford?
There is no need to worry about that. We are talking about a market with billions of customers, numerous possible approaches to each aspect of aging, such as clearance of senescent cells. And you can't patent an approach in general, e.g. clearing senescent cells, just the particular implementation. In such a market, the fundamental economic forces as in any other industry will apply, and healthy competition and a multitude of products in combination with a massive customer base will force quality up and prices down as products quickly mature and become a general commodity.
You are currently supporting several biotech startups that are taking rejuvenation treatments into clinical trials. Is there an estimate of the baseline cost of these therapies, and do you know what the companies are planning to do to make them more affordable?
At the end of the day, these therapies are going to be an extremely affordable commodity.