Alex Zhavoronkov on Funding and Priorities in Longevity Science

Alex Zhavoronkov of In Silico Medicine has written a fair amount on the economics of aging and the urgent need for greater research and development of means to treat aging - to diminish the burdens that fall upon us all as the result of certain degeneration and death in late life. The costs of aging are staggering, and yet here at the dawn of the era of rejuvenation therapies, only tiny amounts of funding are devoted to doing something about it. Spending on competitive sports - or war, the other manifestation of the same urge - is vast in comparison to the resources devoted to slowing or reversing the causes of aging. We fiddle while Rome burns.

In the past, Alex Zhavoronkov claimed that he expected to live to be 150, but now he's more conservative. He's skeptical that we will see such drastic changes to the human lifespan quite so soon. There are too many hurdles left to clear, and he feels that today's political and economic climate isn't exactly conducive to expensive, experimental longevity research. To be clear, he does believe humanity will someday live that long, but not as soon as he thought. Someday, Zhavoronkov argues, we will build a future where humans can all live longer and healthier, enjoying productive lives well past the ages we never thought we'd reach at all. To get there, the powers that be will just need to shift their focus and decide that longevity is worth pursuing. And his company, along with others that are looking into big data, will forge ahead until that happens.

It's hard to argue that scientists shouldn't find ways to help people live longer. Zhavoronkov argues that longevity ought to be a fundamental human right - the right to live as long and well as possible. Living longer and healthier would help people enjoy a better quality of life, but it would also prevent or solve many of the problems facing our economy. Presumably, living longer will fix the economy because people will grow old without growing frail - our eternal descendants will spend less time at the nursing home and more time at the office. The economic argument is a compelling one for the people holding the purse strings for the grants that fund research, but so far it hasn't been enough for them to funnel money into the field, where Zhavoronkov thinks it's most needed.

"This is very frustrating. But this is the nature of today's society. People in the developed countries have most of their basic needs already satisfied but instead of focusing on securing the future, they focus on today's events. Clearly the governments and the people they represent have their priorities misplaced." In an ideal world, transformative changes will ripple through healthcare within ten to fifteen years, Zhavoronkov predicts. But he's disappointed that his company and other teams working on real, science-based, longevity research haven't gotten more hype. "The limitations on what we can do for longevity today come from our current understanding of technology and will not be there in the future. We need to focus on what is available today at the very cutting edge and take it to the next level."



"While the rate of progress is close to exponential, we are still too far from seeing tangible longevity interventions where you can see it to believe it."

So he is not a supporter of SENS or the Hallmarks (senolytics are just around the corner). I wonder what theory of aging he does support, if any.

Posted by: Antonio at August 2nd, 2018 6:45 AM

This thinking doesn't really make sense. If he's able to see that the progress is exponential, then the curve has started to take off. Therefore there will be a much bigger change in an equal unit of time in the future, than in the period it took for him to perceive it.

Maybe he's playing a game in shaming investors or some-such.

Posted by: Mark at August 2nd, 2018 9:55 AM


He put a post on his Facebook page about this, and your right. Flat out said it was a Trojan Horse for skeptics.

We are still on track.

Posted by: Mark Borbely at August 2nd, 2018 10:03 AM

"If the tree falls in the forest and no one hears it" - the observer creates reality. More people understanding what I have come to know will determine the speed of the change. Group ignorance actually harms us metabolically, speeds aging, shortens telomeres - RKP

Posted by: Robert Kane Pappas at August 2nd, 2018 11:04 AM

Three is a huge need. But making somebody believe that it is possible at all requires a huge leap of imagination. So until until something works there will be less financing. The billionaires don't want to raise their hopes, because the failure would be so painful on personal scale. The investors don't bother, since the payback is many decades away. The governments officials don't want to raise painful topics of fear to be perceived as nuts.

But senolitics are just a few short years away.

Posted by: cuberat at August 2nd, 2018 5:03 PM

Thanks, @Reason for posting this as it gives me the opportunity to respond. The title of the Futurism article is deceiving. I am convinced that 150 is not only achievable but is a conservative estimate. I usually advise my friends to set their longevity expectations to 150 to help slow down the psychological aging (see socio-emotional selectivity theory) and maintain the behavioral patterns characteristic of younger persons.

The US is the beating heart of the global economy and the US currency is its blood. Unfortunately, the economy is over-reliant on debt and the $18 trillion national debt of the US is just a tiny tip of the iceberg since the amount of money the country owes to its citizens in the form of social security, Medicaid, Medicare and other benefits eclipses pretty much everything else.

If you look at what the media is reporting today, you may see the signs of the economic and political agony reminiscent of the end of the Weimar Republic. People are focused on celebrity politics and artificial geopolitical tensions distracting them from the main cause of these problems - aging. And my greatest fear right now is the coming economic recession and the possible economic and geopolitical collapse that will render all of our efforts in longevity biotechnology obsolete. We need a John Galt-like exodus of longevity scientists to a safe place, where research can continue regardless of what happens with the rest of the world...

This presentation summarizes some of my thoughts on how the economy is going to collapse or grow depending on how quickly we can extend productive longevity in the developed countries and how AI can help:

Some useful references:

Biomedical Progress Rates as New Parameters for Models of Economic Growth in Developed Countries

Evaluating the impact of recent advances in biomedical sciences and the possible mortality decreases on the future of health care and Social Security in the United States

Longevity expectations in the pension fund, insurance, and employee benefits industries

The last paper shows that most of the actuaries do not expect any breakthroughs in longevity biotechnology. The economy was and still is unprepared for longer lifespans.

Posted by: Alex Zhavoronkov at August 4th, 2018 8:19 PM

I think these are valid concerns. Progress has to stay ahead of the coming collapse in healthcare. In some ways a little bit of progress will hurt public finances, as it just allows lots of older people to keep drawing their pension. What we really need is for all those people to remain productive and feed back into the economy. If that happens then the whole world will experience a golden age of economic growth and rising living standatds in addition to the incredible individual dividend of a much longer, healthy life.

Posted by: Mark at August 6th, 2018 4:12 AM

The prezi presentation is most informative

Posted by: Natalie at August 6th, 2018 6:21 PM

Alex, Mark,
the economy would be OK, provided we don't annihilate ourselves in a nuclear exchange. There will be ups, there will be downs. We still didn't completely recover from the great recession and probably we could get another recession next year. Every 10 years there are fears that the sky's is falling but it is interesting that the GDP growth quickly returns to the trendline. And the debt is one of the ways to propvide the so much needed liquidity which can service the growing economy (there are even quite credible opinions that the QE has to be resumed). Will there be busts, even terrible ones? Probably. Will they stop or even slowdown the scientific progress... I doubt it. In fact, the recession times are the times were the lawmakers are reassessing the rules and pushing for changes. If everything is good, there will be no urgency for a change.

For example, the refrigerators become wildly available during the great depression. And the adoption rate was very quick, despite the depression.

Posted by: cuberat at August 6th, 2018 6:34 PM
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