The institutions of the world are slowly waking to the potential of treating aging as a medical condition, thereby postponing, reversing, and ultimately entirely preventing age-related disease. The side-effect will be greatly extended lives, lived in good health, in youthful vigor. Aging is the accumulation of cell and tissue damage, and rejuvenation is the periodic repair of this damage. The research and development communities are only just starting on the road of damage repair in medicine. The first rejuvenation therapies, in the form of senolytic treatments to selectively destroy senescent cells, are only now emerging. They will make a sizable difference, far more than has been achieved by any other approach to medicine for age-related disease, but this is just the first step on a long road.
Alongside progress towards rejuvenation therapies and methods of modestly slowing aging, advocates for the treatment of aging have been working energetically at the task of steering the agendas at large research and medical institutions. This has been going on for something like two decades now. It is a slow process, but is finally starting to bear fruit, as illustrated by today's news regarding the recently established Healthy Longevity Global Grand Challenge organized by the National Academy of Medicine. That very conservative organizations are now willing to talk in public about treating aging, and the ability to significantly alter the trajectory of human aging, is a sizable advance over the state of affairs even as recently as a decade ago.
Yet there is more to accomplish: the representatives of these organizations are still unwilling to talk about extending human life spans, in good health, for as long as possible. They talk about healthspan and prevention of age-related disease, and skip over the point that, for so long as health is maintained, people will live for longer. Aging is damage, health is the absence of that damage. Extended life span and extended health are bound together; you can't have one without the other.
When radical life extension is not on the table as a goal, the inevitable result is that significant funding and attention goes towards projects that are capable of only small degrees of influence over aging. Take mTOR inhibitors, or metformin, or any of the other approaches to calorie restriction mimetics that upregulate stress responses, for example. These are an improvement over most older approaches to age-related disease, but that is a very low bar to pass. They are an exceptionally poor choice when compared with repairing the underlying damage that causes aging, such as by destroying senescent cells. But there is enormous enthusiasm for objectively worse strategies in the treatment of aging at the present time. I have to think that the mainstream rejection of the goal of adding decades or more of healthy life, extending the human life span far beyond its present limits, has something to do with this poor strategic prioritization.
Dramatic breakthroughs in medicine, public health, and social and economic development have resulted in unprecedented extensions of the human lifespan across the world over the past century. This triumph for humanity provides new opportunities as well as new challenges. Globally, we are facing a major demographic shift. Today, 8.5% of people worldwide (617 million) are aged 65 and over. By 2050, this percentage is projected to more than double, reaching 1.6 billion. The global population of the "oldest old" - people aged 80 and older - is expected to more than triple between 2015 and 2050, growing from 126 million to 447 million.
At the current pace, population aging is poised to impose a significant strain on economies, health systems, and social structures worldwide. But it doesn't have to. We can envision, just on the horizon, an explosion of potential new medicines, treatments, technologies, and preventive and social strategies that could help transform the way we age and ensure better health, function, and productivity during a period of extended longevity. Multidisciplinary solutions are urgently needed to maximize the number of years lived in good health and a state of well-being. Now is the time to support the next breakthroughs in healthy longevity, so that all of us can benefit from the tremendous opportunities it has to offer.
The National Academy of Medicine is launching a Global Grand Challenge for Healthy Longevity - a worldwide movement to increase physical, mental, and social well-being for people as they age. The initiative will have two components: a prize competition to catalyze breakthrough innovations from any field, and an evidence-based report authored by an international commission.
Johnson & Johnson Innovation today announced the signing of a sponsorship agreement with the National Academy of Medicine (NAM) to be the principal corporate partner of the Healthy Longevity Catalyst Awards in the United States. Part of the Healthy Longevity Global Grand Challenge1 founded by the NAM, the Catalyst Awards are a global prize competition to launch later this year, designed to stimulate innovation to transform the field of healthy longevity. The program will culminate in one or more Healthy Longevity Grand Prizes for major breakthroughs in increasing human healthspan.
The NAM Grand Challenge will roll out over three distinct phases and employ a tiered model of awards and prizes to stimulate new research and solutions around healthy longevity. Under the agreement, Johnson & Johnson Innovation will provide funding for the foundational Healthy Longevity Catalyst Awards in the U.S., to identify innovative, entrepreneurial proposals that have the greatest chance of being translatable into solutions to prevent, intercept and/or cure disease or deficits related to aging. "We envision a world in which widespread disease is a historical artifact and people enjoy longer, healthier lives, promoted by technological and medical advances. To achieve this, we need to shift the paradigm from today's widespread focus on 'disease care' - where we wait for people to get sick, to only then do something about it - towards true health care, by keeping people well in the first place, eliminating disease and restoring people to full health."