The principals of the XPRIZE Foundation have been contemplating a longevity-focused research prize for many years now, but the process of design and set up never quite managed to make it all that far. By the look of things, that state of affairs might be changing. That the first working rejuvenation therapies are in clinical trials is something of a prompt for many organizations that needed either a little more supporting evidence or public approval to move forward with their plans relating to aging. Thus the XPRIZE Foundation held a gathering earlier this year in which members of the longevity science community came together to design a suitable research prize structure to encourage work on extending healthy longevity.
For those unfamiliar, the XPRIZE Foundation is famous for designing multi-million-dollar, global competitions to incentivize the development of technological breakthroughs. On April 29th and 30th, the XPRIZE Foundation hosted an event at its headquarters in Culver City, California that could have a profound effect on the evolving landscape of biorejuvenation research: the Future of Longevity Impact Roadmap Lab. With this event, the purpose of which was to gather subject matter experts to brainstorm a potential longevity-research prize, XPRIZE has turned its focus towards solving the critical problem of age-related diseases on society and extending healthy human lifespan for all.
The attendees were a diverse crowd, a veritable who's who of the broader pro-longevity movement: researchers such as Steve Horvath and Greg Fahy, investors such as Sergey Young (board member of XPRIZE and creator of the $100 million Longevity Vision Fund), long-time advocates such as myself, Aubrey de Grey, and Jim Strole, global policy makers, journalists, cryonicists such as Max More, transhumanists such as Zoltan Istvan and Natasha Vita-More, and of course XPRIZE founder Peter Diamandis.
To facilitate this, the attendees, numbering approximately 70, were divided into tables of four or five - each person tasked with generating a preliminary idea for a longevity-focused XPRIZE and further charged with convincing the rest of their table that their proposed idea should be the one put forth by their table to the rest of the group for consideration. My table happened to include Aubrey de Grey, and thus I knew that a lively discussion was all but assured.
The idea I personally put forth was a conceptually simple one: meaningful physiological remediation of dementia (not just proxy diagnostics or biomarkers) by 2030. I thought this was well suited to the the XPRIZE qualities of "bold, but feasible" and "define the problem, not the solution", and it has several other factors in its favor, namely that dementia is by far the most damaging aspect of aging in terms of protracted emotional suffering and large-scale socioeconomic effects, it is the one aspect of aging that everyone already unequivocally believes is horrific and needs solving, the existing system has failed to solve it for decades, many promising therapy angles have no traditional profit motive and thus will not come to market without additional incentive, success would be clear to validate, and curing it would create an amazing and hopeful narrative with which to enlist the entire world in overcoming all of the diseases of aging.
Aubrey apparently agreed, and with his vote of confidence, this idea became one of the prize concepts pitched to the entire group for consideration. Ideas arising from the other tables' groups covered a wide range of topics as well, included growing fully functional organs from stem cells, demonstrating the arrest of epigenetic markers of aging, successful brain transplantation, creation of an ageless mouse, and restoration of homeostatic and damage repair mechanisms in the elderly.
In terms of an ideal XPRIZE contest, the sought-after configuration was maximal impact and audacity, a proof-of-concept expected date achievable within 10 or 15 years, and with the shortest possible time period between proof-of-concept and widespread adoption. When all was said and done, two concepts stood out. These were the aforementioned proposals put forth by Aubrey and myself: limited but specifically measured human rejuvenation by 2032 and meaningful physiological remediation of dementia by 2030. Of course, with the current exercise completed and the attendees now back to their respective homes and workplaces, it remains to be seen just how the outcome will inform the immediate plans of the XPRIZE Foundation.