An Interview with Jim Mellon of Juvenescence at Undoing Aging 2019

The Life Extension Advocacy Foundation was not the only group conducting numerous interviews at the recent Undoing Aging conference in Berlin. Representatives of the German Party for Health Research were also set up with a camera and interviewer. The video here is their interview with billionaire Jim Mellon, one of the founders of Juvenescence. He is notable in our community for being one of the first high net worth individuals to fully and publicly back the SENS view of aging in both word and deed. SENS tells us that aging is caused by molecular damage, and that periodically repairing that damage is the way to produce rejuvenation.

Jim Mellon's efforts go considerably beyond merely supporting rejuvenation research in the SENS Research Foundation network with philanthropic donations. His goal is to build an industry, attracting all of the necessary participants: entrepreneurs, venture funds, and more. To this end he published a book to popularize the opportunity that exists to treat aging as a medical condition, and raised a sizable fund in order to invest in the growth of the rejuvenation biotechnology industry. For the past year or more, Jim Mellon and the other principals Juvenescence have been investing aggressively in the first generation of startup biotechnology companies to work on ways to slow or reverse mechanisms of aging.

Jim Mellon at Undoing Aging 2019

Could you start by introducing yourself?

Ok, so my name is Jim Mellon, and I'm the chairman of a relatively new company called Juvenescence Ltd. I've been in the biotech business for about 12 years, and I've done other stuff in my career history, including fund management, mining, and German property investment. We still have our German property investment, some in Berlin some around the rest of Germany. The main focus at the moment is on our company, which is engaged in longevity science investment, which is called Juvenescence.

What is your motivation for that?

There are three motivations. One is self-preservation, so in other words a selfish interest in living longer, as I like living. The second is that this is obviously something that is going to have a huge human impact for the positive, so this is the ultimate ESG investment, if you know what ESG is. The third thing is that obviously we are a commercial organization and we are looking to make returns for our shareholders, of which we are the largest.

How would you describe your work and your engagement in aging research?

We have three partners in our business, and fifteen employees at the moment. The company started a year and a bit ago. We've raised about $160 million for our company, and we put in $35 million ourselves, of our own money. So it is quite well funded, and we've invested in 18 projects so far, ranging from small molecules, which is the specialization of our team, to stem cells, where as you may or may not know we own 46% of AgeX Therapeutics, which has been presenting here at this conference, and Aubrey de Grey is a senior vice president here, to organ regeneration. Our first product to go into a sick patient will be in the first quarter of next year, with a company called Lygenesis, which is working on liver regeneration.

So basically we are triaging investments with our team to find the most appropriate investments, to both advance science and get commercial products into the market, and we're doing that as quickly as we can, given that this is a relatively early stage science from the commercial point of view. We expect our company to list on the New York Stock Exchange, on the NASDAQ, in early 2020. So we're moving very, very quickly in this field.

What would you say to people in Germany who are indifferent to the whole aging research thing, and don't know much about it?

Well that is a great question, who would not want to live, in a healthy condition, for longer, even if it is only five or ten years? That is now possible. So for the first time in human history it is possible to bioengineer humans to get that effect. All of the increases in life expectancy up to this point, as you know, have been due to environmental improvements. Now, for the first time, with the unveiling of the human genome, the identification of pathways, the use of animal models to manipulate those pathways, demonstrates that, for sure, something is going to work in prolonging human healthspan. We don't know exactly what yet, but there are some human trials underway at the moment, so that gives us great optimism. We are very lucky to be the first cohort ever on the planet to have that indulgence, that we may be able to live longer and in a healthier condition.

We recognized that fairly early on. Most people, as you rightly point out, are indifferent to it, or don't believe it. We certainly do believe it, and our history is a good one in biotech. We've set up a number of biotech companies. One is already listed on the New York Stock Exchange. It is about a $3 billion market capitalization. We set up that company four years ago, and it has a cure for migraine, which will be on the market in America next year. We can demonstrate that we can deliver new drugs and new therapies to human beings, and now we're going to do that in the longevity space. So we're very excited and very, very focused on that.

You need lots of money for that of course, and what the German Party for Health Research wants is much more money for research and development from the government. How much are we talking about? What would you recommend?

I don't think there is any upper limit to the amount that could be usefully deployed. Obviously governments are cash constrained, so it is not just governments but individuals, corporations, and so forth that should get on to this bandwagon. We're in the dial-up phase of the internet in the early 1980s. We're in the very early stage of this industry. We're at the front end of a huge investment curve. Money will start coming in: Samumed has raised a great deal of funding, Calico has a great deal of funding from Google and Abbvie. We've raised quite a large amount of funding, and there are other companies such as Unity Biotechnology and resTORbio that have raised funds.

But this is just the beginning of what will be an enormous amount of funding coming in. The UK government - I'm a British citizen - has devoted GBP300 million to this area under the auspices of Oxford University and John Bell. The German government should do the same. Governments across Europe should do the same, so that this is not just an Americn science, not just something that belongs to California or to Texas. It needs to be a universal science. So I fully endorse the aims and motivations of your party and I wish you very well in the forthcoming elections.

Let's go 20 years into the future: how do you want an 80 year old living in 20 years?

Well my father just turned 90 as an example, and he is in robust health. I want him to benefit from metformin and rapamycin and the coming therapies, and to maintain his healthy life span until at least 120. From a personal motivational point of view, I would like him to be as healthy as he is today, for a fairly advanced stage, in 20 or 30 years. I believe it to be possible. Just to show you how dedicated we are to maintaining him in good health, and others like him, we are having his 90th birthday party in Ibiza, which is not normally associated with raves for old people. Well, that's where we are having the party!

Comments

I hope Reason and Jim Mellon live a very long time.

Posted by: JohnD at May 8th, 2019 11:26 PM

There's no way you can make a 120 with the health of a healthy 90 with metformin, rapamycin and a few senolytics. They will give us at best 10 years, not 30. There's no way a small part of one out of seven SENS types of therapies will give 30 years. Robust Human Rejuvenation needs at least half of the 7 components to give 30 years. Some people are either overoptimistic or in denial.

Posted by: Jonathan Weaver at May 9th, 2019 4:19 AM

Does anyone know what has the british government done when he says "The UK government - I'm a British citizen - has devoted GBP300 million to this area under the auspices of Oxford University and John Bell" ?

Posted by: Josep at May 9th, 2019 4:43 AM

@Jonathan Weaver
If he has good genes he could live to 115-120. If you add senolitics and rapamycin that can add 10 more years. Still a stretch, unless there's something else in the pipeline

Posted by: Cuberat at May 9th, 2019 7:09 AM

There are also various cancer immunotherapies in the pipeline and there's a long list of stem cell therapies in clinical trials. Japan has a shortened approval pipeline for regenerative meducine. With the money and connections of Jim Mellon you can do a lot more than just Metformin, Rapamycin and senolytics. But first of all you need to know how, what works and what doesn't.

Posted by: Matthias F at May 9th, 2019 9:08 AM

@Jonathon,

I believe Aubrey @Co are now of the opinion that senolytics will give much more than expected, even without other therapies.

Stem cell therapies are now reaching maturity with gene delivery therapy not far behind. And Aubrey's been hinting at progress with AGEs and mitochondrial gene transfer to the nucleus (if you believe that will be helpful) too.

Even so Jim's father would have to be in very robust health at 90 to expect many more years than nature intended.

Posted by: Mark at May 9th, 2019 9:34 AM

If Jim's father doesn't grow YOUNGER he won't live much longer no matter what. Point is, at 90 mortality rates are really high, no matter how healthy you appear to be. To make it to 120 with the biology of a 90 year old you would still need to beat crazy odds.

Posted by: Barbara T. at May 9th, 2019 1:24 PM

Unfortunately unless Jim Mellon's father gets senolytics treatment and a host of other treatments in the next 12-36 months he probably won't see 95 let alone 120.

What are the yearly mortality odds at 90?

Posted by: jimofoz at May 10th, 2019 6:13 AM

I LOVE the way Jim Mellon cuts to the chase! He asks: "[W]ho would not want to live, in a healthy condition, for longer, even if it is only five or ten years? That is now possible." Later he adds: "I want [my 90-year-old dad] to benefit from metformin and rapamycin and the coming therapies."

I think a judiciously-balanced program of MNM, stem cells, senolytics, metformin, and rapamycin might indeed give middle-aged people an extra 5-10 years of longevity RIGHT NOW. But I wonder if Reason agrees with this?

Posted by: Zan at May 11th, 2019 2:37 PM

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