An Interview with David Gobel of the Methuselah Foundation
David Gobel, one of the pillars of our longevity science and advocacy community, cofounded the Methuselah Foundation with Aubrey de Grey way back when, and continues to run that organization today. Over the years he has supervised a diverse set of grants, projects, and successful investments in tissue engineering and aging research, including the first SENS rejuvenation research programs, prior to the launch of the SENS Research Foundation. With the recent influx of capital to new companies seeking to produce therapies that target mechanisms of aging, investment at the Methuselah Foundation has expanded to become the Methuselah Fund, a hybrid for-profit/non-profit vehicle that will continue the work of accelerating progress towards meaningful rejuvenation therapies.
How did your involvement in life extension begin; did you realize the problem of aging yourself, or were you introduced to it by someone else?
It started because of my awareness that the healthcare system was broken, like the growth of an unplanned city that has no rhyme or reason. Our healthcare system reacts to system failures rather than preventing them, because that is more lucrative. The incentives push science in poor directions, and then these become inferior technologies and treatments. I came to the conclusion that we need a system reset. After much research and reflection, it became my conviction that this reset should be to delay and reverse aging and rejuvenate robust health. I believe this will result in reduced suffering and the greatest opportunity for individual and civilizational growth.
Methuselah Foundation has given millions of dollars to regenerative medicine research, backing ventures such as Organovo, Oisin Biotechnologies, and SENS Research Foundation. Would you like to tell us about some of the results that these companies have obtained thanks to your charity?
Well, Organovo invented and is now selling high-fidelity 3D human liver and kidney tissues to the research market, is providing contract services, and is on track to deliver a 3D liver patch to the clinic in two years. Another portfolio alumnus, Silverstone Matchgrid, has saved the lives of over 1,000 people due to our investment in its paired kidney donation software. This software is now used in over 35 hospitals in the U.S., Europe, and soon, Saudi Arabia. I don't think I need to say anything about SENS Foundation - it is fantastic, and we at Methuselah Foundation couldn't be prouder of its success and contributions.
We have very high expectations for Oisin Bio and OncoSenX. We anticipate that it will be in Phase 1 safety trials by mid-2019. We hope to provide it to some patients much sooner than previously possible, as the FDA is liberalizing treatment availability via the recently passed "Right to Try" legislation. Leucadia Therapeutics is a startup focused on defeating Alzheimer's disease. This is progressing and promising. We hope to have major news later this year. Rather than go on, I'd like to say that we at Methuselah Foundation tend to be modest about proclaiming our successes. We prefer that the companies and scientists behind them get famous.
Can you tell us about the Methuselah Fund and how its mission differs from that of Methuselah Foundation?
The Methuselah Fund, or M Fund, is designed to give donors a chance to get a return on equity now that the longevity field is maturing. Many of our donors have been faithfully donating for years, and now that opportunities are emerging, we wanted to give them the first opportunity to invest. We are delighted to announce that we just successfully closed the M Fund's Founder's Round. We now have four companies in our portfolio and have been looking at helping form some promising new ventures. We are particularly proud to say that every single one of our members is a mission-driven individual who wants, more than anything, to see an end to the aging problem.
You were the first to put forward the concept of longevity escape velocity, or LEV. How far are we from LEV, assuming the current pace of research and no serious showstoppers?
I anticipate that within 3 years, some interventions will be available via safety trials and that people who are treated will receive benefits that put them on a path toward LEV. I believe things will accelerate from there, as vastly more attention is triggered by early advances. We are seeing the first glimmers of this already.
We will be happy if by 2030 we have the first generation of comprehensive senolytic therapy, that clears good amount of senescent cells throughout the whole body. And perhaps a few other therapies on the "easy side" curing aging.. But LEV by 2030? I am a futurist, but I cannot take this guy serious. I know we won't recognize the moment when we first hit LEV. This will become clear only decades later. But 2030? Common, guys.. Surely 2050 is being objectively optimistic, accounting for exponential advancements, AI and everything.
LEV by 2030? If so, much of my effort to maximize my health and longevity will have been unnecessary.
Seriously: When David Gobel makes such an assessment, does he base this on some sort of analysis or is it a "sense" based on his broad experience in observing where we are vs. where we have been?
My company has developed schedule uncertainty analysis software that allows analysts to associate probability distributions for activity durations and probabilities of success, within a network schedule (where activities and events are tied together with dependency logic). It works with Microsoft Project and Primavera Px. Using distribution sampling, the results are percent confidence spreads of dates, from the low confidence earliest to the high confidence latest.
If anyone in the longevity community wants to conduct a formal estimate for when LEV will arrive, I'll be glad to contribute effort towards this. I imagine it could be organized around the principal causes of aging and roadmaps of issues and companies/efforts addressing them. There might be intermediate results useful to investors.
Aubrey's guess is 2040-2045 at least.
I think the biggest uncertainties are on the investor's side: how much investment will go to really promising therapies based on SENS vs mostly useless tinkering-with-metabolism therapies.
I said we are aiming to make 90 the new 50 by 2030. I did not say we would achieve LEV by 2030.
When I was a boy, most everyone who was 50 already looked 70-75 by todays standards. Flase teeth, haggard faces, heart attacks aplenty, incurable glaucoma, often crippled etc. etc.
So, from the standpoint of 1960, our 75 has become the new 50. Our goal is NOT to achieve LEV by 2030. It is audacious, but much more modest than LEV.
Also, we don't say that everyone will have access to such treatments. We are saying that we aim along with others to make it possible.
@DarwiN: If you can't take 'this guy' seriously with his 2030 prediction then perhaps you might take Ray Kurzweil a bit more seriously. He has also pointed to around 2030 for LEV.
@David Gobel: Thanks for the clarification. So from when that baseline 50 year old is taken, for comparison? 2001? Or when?
@Steven B, I don't take Kurzweil seriously. He is a semi-quack regurgitating same things over and over. I know articles are describing his track record as being in the golden 80-90% region, but look up his predictions for 2019 on Wiki. He's got about ~85% things wrong, and the rest are mostly generic things.. We should be 3D printing our clothes according to him, blind people seeing through "image to speech" glasses, people with spinal cord injuries should be playing football with exoskeletons, most roads with automated systems?, average life expectancy over 100, etc, etc, etc.
Yes, teeth are one area where we almost have perfect rejuvenation biotechnology/maintenance already.
Out of curiosity, I checked (female) 50 year olds mortality in 1960 in several countries and compared it with current (2013) mortality at different ages to find out what is the new 50:
In Spain, 65 is the new 50.
In France, 61 is the new 50.
In Sweden, 60 is the new 50.
In the US, 58 is the new 50.
(The mortality rate for 50 year olds in Spain probably has some systematic error, since it's 0.003855 for 49 year olds, 0.004834 for 50 year olds, 0.004396 for 51 year olds and 0.005245 for 52 year olds.)
Antonio, this chart is the most important and meaningful for us. Basically the life expectancy for 65 year old US males rose slightly more than 5 years between 1960 and 2015.. The rest is down to improved child mortality and what not.
@ Jim : We can't regrow teeth and we can't even repair enamel... the need for rejuvenation in the dental area is dramatically dire.
Spede they can regrow teeth, yes and it has been demonstrated in mice and rats using impregnated sponges to spur growth. But I agree we need it for human dentistry urgently.
Indeed Steve, I meant on humans and out of the lab ;)
By the way I wish the dental rejuvenation scene was more visible, more accessible to the laymen. E.g. if I want to support overall rejuvenation efforts, then the SRF and the Methuselah Foundation are my go-to organisations. But for dental and gingival endeavours ? Research seems scattered amongst various institutions which don't share a common interface nor don't seem to have a common, grand "mouth rejuvenation" plan.
In sum, I just whish there were SENS but specifically for teeth and gum.
Perhaps the rejuvenation community would be interested in branching out in that direction, as I recall reading several articles here about how periodontitis and other related afflictions were an issue for one's lifespan.
@Antony, yes, 2001.
@Spede, We are always looking for aural and dental opportunities. But most solutions are prosthetic still. Which frankly is not awful, compared to sarcopenia, copd, incontinence, blindness etc. So we have to deal with those first. if we make enough progress by 2023, we can turn our attention to these "Lust for Life" items on the roadmap. (See our upcoming Volumetric sugar glass announcements)...sorry to tease LOL.
Glad to hear you're open about these opportunities, David. (Yes, even the exciting volumetric sugar glasses, ha !)
Of course it's not as big a priority as life-saving treatments, but in terms of "effective altruism" and financial investment (re: the MFund), dental care is an excellent target as it's an acute problem worldwide. No matter whether one lives in a 1st or a 3rd world country, the psychological anguish and monetary issues exist anywhere on the planet - to varying degrees of course. Nobody wants to lose their teeth, get roting gums, undergo a root canal, pay four- to five-figure sums for a set of false teeth, etc.
People would be willing to pay A LOT for novel treatments able to durably keep in check their oral issues. Welfare states would probably step in and finance such treatments partially or totally, depending on the severity of the affection being treated. The target market is huge.
I don't know if Oisin's technology could be repurposed to target mouth bacteria, which cause cavities, gingivitis and periodontitis. That'd be cool.
@Antonio, do you have a link where Aubrey says 2040-2045 for LEV?
@Morpheus: He said 25-30 years in 2014. He said so in several interviews/talks. I will search for some link later.
@David: Wow, that would be really impressive to achieve in only 12 years! Compared to 2001, we are now in the "52 is the new 50" stage. Also, it will probably be more difficult than LEV, because Aubrey says that LEV will be achieved more or less at the same time than Robust Human Rejuvenation, and the latter is basically making 90 the new 60.
@Morpheus: https://www.quora.com/Could-Longevity-Escape-Velocity-happen-by-2050-if-we-donate-more-to-SENS/answer/Aubrey-de-Grey (fourth point).
@David: Even though you clarified here that you do not expect for LEV to possibly be here by 2030, but look how the news is spreading:
Dentistry is also incredibly unregulated and free market compared to most of health care. About 20 years ago talking with my dentist he said if you maintain your healthy teeth through hygiene and regular visits to the dentist.. you can die with a full set of healthy teeth. I go every 3 months and 20 years later, my teeth are still here.
I said to him.. imagine if all the areas of health care were like that.
Here's what $3 billion and 15 years has yielded so far in terms of just one area related to LEV
Everyone need to take a deep breath, ignore the hype machine, and get the heck back to work
Everyone seems to think that any dollar spent is the same as any other dollar. Not true. If it were true, stock price multiples wouldn't be possible. Between SENS and Methuselah I would be shocked if total expenditure has been above $35 million so far. Yet the yield from those dollars is out of all proportion to the spent amount. Best way to illustrate the amplifier value of strategy applied to mission focus is this clip from Princees Bride...
No disrespect to all your great efforts, but I do not believe SRF/MF has a monopoly on innovative thinking in biotech
There are a lot of very smart people that work on these topics
At the end of the day, this is a long, treacherous path, and must be acknowledged as such
@DruDev. Totally agree with you! Part of our deliberate strategy is to attract as many players into the space as possible in the shortest possible time frame in order to "warp the possibility space". This mission would happen without tons of new players.
Just to clarify, do you hope/expect 90 year olds in 2030 to resemble todays 50 year olds in appearance and physical/cognitive performance, or do you mean that a 90 year old will have the remaining life expectancy of a 50 year old today?
In my opinion, the prediction of achieving LEV by 2030 is too good to be true.
I'm trying to be optimistic but don't believe it. However I hope that we can achieve "pre LEV" in the nearest future. Unlike LEV, where 1 extra year is added to life expectancy every year, "preLEV" will be adding just half year or 6 months every year. For healthy and responsible individuals preLEV will give opportunity to buy a few decades until truly LEV or rejuvenation therapies arrive.
preLEV could help many millions stay alive, long enough to get to full LEV.
An example of a class of drugs coming that could make a difference is the NASH drugs in testing now. These drugs are to clear out fat that is in the liver, from non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
WIn addition to treating NASH, I think with greater scientific understanding of the liver we will be able to modulate fat levels in the person generally. Eg.. by up-regulating the lipolytic enzymes in the liver. Put the person into a slight net fat burning state for a couple of years to get the person down to their ideal bodyweight. Then after that is achieved, adjust the doses of the drugs to keep the person steady at that level.
For people with weight problems, aka most of us, that is something that could add years to the average person's life. Ok, its not LEV, but it could go into that 'preLEV' category Alek Ales mentioned.
The thing about LEV, is that it only exists in hindsight. We might well already have the treatment that enables many people to reach LEV, or we might not. It all depends what is subsequently developed. Progress is not linear, and is not a smooth exponential curve either - it's more like a serious of plateaus and vertical jumps. For this reason predictions are almost impossible. But our understanding of aging is out of all proportion to even 10 years ago, and it does appear to be mutable, reversible even, atleast in cells. So for that reason I am hopeful that 2030 is not unrealistic as a LEV date, although we will not know it at the time, or even have all the treatments in place by that date.
@Mark Williams, Perfect. Watch for Revercell newco.
Come on guys - let's get serious with our terminology here
"pre-LEV" means NOW!
@David we have amended your response to the LEV question with a link to the clarification comments here. It seems there was some confusion with the LEV question which we have now updated. I have let Nextbigfuture know as their hyped headline focused on that :)
I am a bit unclear about your comment. David, you said that you hope and believe medical science can treat a person as old as 90 year old, to be physiologically as a 50 year in 12 years. So, anyone who makes it for 12 more years will be able to buy enough time for LEV after 2030. This could include most anyone who is now 60-65 years old?
@Robert it seems to suggest that David thinks LEV will come later but by 2030 90 will be the new 50, or in other words a big increase in life expectancy which while on the path to LEV is not actually LEV. This is the impression I am getting from the above comments by David.
Thats one plausible interpretation. At present a fifty year old American can expect to live over thirty more years. If you interpret the '90 as the new 50' target on the basis of remaining life expectancy, it implies that a 90 year old in 2030 could expect to live to over 120. Doesn't that suggest we will have already passed LEV? If the relevant metric is remaining life expectancy I don't know this target can be achieved without hitting LEV.
Can you clarify this, Dave?
I have updated the quoted escape velocity answer to reflect the change made to the LEAF interview following the discussion here. A cautionary tale about mentioning dates, as people fixate on them to the point of ignoring everything else that one might say.
Making 90 the new 50 by 2030 - is a goal, not a prediction. It is a functional aspirational description as the public might see it, not a biomarker description. It is Methuselah's version of "Got Milk?".
It is a challenge Methuselah has set for itself to focus its efforts and planning, and if we are seen to be "making it" might inspire others not currently engaged with our community to join in to further drive progress.
It is falsifiable - in contrast to open ended statements because it has a deadline.