James Peyer of Apollo Ventures has a good sense of the biotechnology industry. If you are engaged in starting up a new biotechnology company, then he should be high on the list of folk to talk to while in the process of learning how it is that life science funding and development works in practice. The presently young longevity industry must initially fit into the existing life science ecosystem, even though it is destined to outgrow and eventually become enormously larger than that ecosystem. Half of humanity at any given time is the size of the market for rejuvenation therapies, vastly larger than the equivalent markets for any present medical technology intended to treat clinical disease after it emerges. Today just a handful of companies are taking the first steps in the creation of this ultimately gargantuan industry. Tomorrow comes the flood.
What turned you on to the field of anti-aging biology?
I became a scientist because I felt like we were treating the diseases of aging the wrong way. We were waiting for people to get cancer or Alzheimer's disease or something and then trying to do something about it, which felt totally backwards to me. By the time the diseases rear their heads they're at such a level of complexity that biologically, walking them backwards is an enormous - and maybe in many cases insurmountable - challenge.
We still don't know much about aging and how to stop it. Is it premature to start investing?
I think definitely not. Are we ready to administer new medicines to healthy people and help them live longer and prevent disease? The short answer is we're not there. But are new medicines that may eventually be able to do that ready to undergo clinical development for other diseases? Absolutely yes. And that's exclusively what Apollo works on.
What is your vision for Apollo?
Creating a portfolio approach to aging. There's not going to be one single pill that eliminates cancer, Alzheimer's disease, and every other disease of aging. Diseases of aging aren't caused by just one type of damage, so in the long run to make us all healthier, we're going to have to use multiple medicines targeted at the different types of damage. For example, in Alzheimer's disease we may need to both break down unwanted protein aggregates and also regulate glucose levels to really beat the disease. Cancer might need increased immune surveillance and also better DNA repair. For this reason, I think we'll see the serious benefits to healthy lifespan once we start combining multiple safe and effective therapeutics.
If you develop a drug for a rare disease, it will be very expensive. So if it also works as an anti-aging therapy, will it only be affordable to the rich?
Drug prices can always come down to match a market. Let's say our drug starts out as chronic treatment for an orphan disease. Our next trial would be to prevent Alzheimer's or early stage Parkinson's or something like this, in which you give it chronically to a large number of healthy or nearly healthy people. If it succeeds, the price point for that drug will have to drop really sharply to match the market. Something that can increase the median healthy lifespan of a population, even if it's just for a year or two years, already approaches the value of a miracle cure for cancer. Even if it's a quarter of a cure for cancer, it's still a massive deal.