Jim Mellon Interviewed by Adam Ford at Undoing Aging 2019

Adam Ford of Science, Technology, and the Future carried out a number of interviews while at Undoing Aging in Berlin earlier this year. The interview materials are steadily being processed and uploaded, and that just recently included this interview with Jim Mellon, billionaire investor and philanthropist, cofounder of Juvenescence, and a very down to earth fellow who is interested in improving the human condition by targeting aging with new biotechnologies. Accordingly, he has used his resources to put himself into a position to talk up the longevity industry, move research forward, and attract a great deal more funding for the next stage in the process of guiding the first treatments to slow and reverse aspects of aging from the laboratory to the clinic. These are interesting times, as our community expands considerably, and the state of the science and the medicine is progressing ever more rapidly.

My name is Jim Mellon, and I'm the chairman of Juvenescence, which is a company involved in the science of longevity. It is relatively recently formed, it is about a year and a bit old, but we've raised a significant amount of funding - nearly $160 million now - in the last year to advance the cause of longevity science. By the end of this year, we will have made 18 investments. Most of them are subsidiary companies of ours, so we control those companies. We give both development and financial backing to the scientist-entrepreneurs and institutions that we collaborate with.

I am fortunate to have two partners who have broad experience in the biotech and healthcare area, in particular Declan Doogan, who was the head of drug development at Pfizer for a long period, and then he worked at Amarin, which as you know is a very successful biotech company with a nearly $10 billion market valuation today. About four years ago, the three of us started a company called Biohaven, which is now listed on the New York Stock Exchange and has a valuation of about $2.5 billion. The company has approval for a drug for migraine, which will be on the market in the US next year. There is a good team of veteran drug developers who have come together to create this Juvenescence company, and we're very, very excited about it. We're the biggest investors in the company ourselves, on the same terms as other investors. We will take the company public in the first quarter of next year, barring market disasters, and probably on the US stock exchanges.

We're interested in this field of longevity science and able to raise significant funding because we've been in biotech for quite a long period of time, together, and created a number of companies. It seemed to be a natural outgrowth of the great developments that have occurred in the last few years. The unveiling of the human genome identified aging pathways that can now be manipulated. For the first time ever, you and I are in the cohort that is able to be bioengineered to live a healthier and longer life. It is still in a very primitive stage; we're in the internet dial-up era equivalent, but the science is advancing very quickly.

I always say that I wrote my first book on biotech seven years ago, it was called Cracking the Code, and since then we've had CRISPR/Cas9, which didn't exist seven years ago, we've had the cure for Hepatitis C, we've had artificial intelligence for the development of novel compounds. The latter of which is a key part of our strategy, as investors in In Silico Medicine, which I think you are familiar with. Then, of course, you have cancer immunotherapy, which didn't exist seven years ago, and is now a $100 billion / year industry. So what is going to happen in the next seven years? We don't know, but you can bet that it is going to be very, very good. So, if you want to regard it as a casino table, we're covering all the markers that we can with the funds that we've raised. We hope to raise a substantial further amount on the initial public offering of the company in the first quarter of next year, and that will give us enough resources to carry out five phase II trials without partners, so that we can get the maximum leverage on the products that we're developing.

So far we've invested in small molecules, which is the specialization of our team. For instance we have a senolytic drug in development in that area. We've also invested in stem cells; we're the largest investor in Mike West's company AgeX Therapeutics, which is now a public company in the US. We own about 46% of that company. Then via Lygenesis we've also got our first product going into patients in the first quarter of next year, sick patients in a phase II trial, for organ regeneration, regenerating the liver, using hepatocytes to seed lymph nodes to act as organic bioreactors to grow fully functioning liver tissue. The FDA has agreed to the protocol for doing that in sick patients, which is a remarkably fast path to demonstrating successful outcomes in that area. If that is successful, then we will look to regenerate other organs, in particular the thymus, which as you know is related to aging in a big way.

So we're moving very, very quickly. We've got great colleagues; Margaret Jackson from Pfizer is on our team. Howard Federoff, ex-Pfizer, is on our team. Annalisa Jenkins, who was head of drug development and research and development at Merck Serono, a very big company, is on our team. We've put it all together remarkably quickly. But we have experience in doing that, and so we're full of confidence. This is a remarkable time to be alive, and I want to be alive for at least another 20 or 30 years beyond what would be considered to be my allotted life span. The same is the motivating factor for my cofounders, Declan Doogan and Greg Bailey.

Working to extend life is an ethical cause. No-one can argue, successfully at least, that this isn't a good thing to do. There are some people who say "well, it is for the haves and not for the have-nots" but that is rubbish, because ultimately all these drugs will become generally available, and some of them already are. Metformin, which as you aware is a drug that has some anti-aging properties, costs essentially nothing. It is a generic drug. In the same as antibiotics and ulcer drugs and so forth were once expensive and are now very cheap, the same thing will happen to drugs for longevity. Gene therapy and stem cells is another matter, though, and that will probably be an expensive thing for some time to come. But undoubtedly, the cost will come down for those as well.

The other people who argue against work on aging talk about overpopulation; if there are all these old people, will there be enough room on the planet. Well the answer is, we're already alive, so we're not going to be adding to the population. You and I are already here. The big issue on population is how many children does each woman have around the world, and that figure is falling dramatically, to the point where we can see populations actually shrinking. Just as an example, if Japan doesn't all immigration, or doesn't have a baby boom, its population will fall from 126 million today to 50 million by the year 2100. So both those arguments, the haves versus the have-nots, and the overpopulation concern, are nonsensical arguments. In my view there is absolutely no reason why governments, institutions, the general population, the voting population, shouldn't be pushing really hard to make this happen.

Regarding the aging of the existing population and how to cope with it, the main point made by Aubrey de Grey, and other eminent scientists as well, is that if you treat the top of the cascade of damage in aging, then you are going to treat the underlying diseases of aging that pharmaceutical companies are trying to address. But for those pharmaceutical companies, it is a whack-a-mole exercise, so if you get one disease and that is cured, then you'll get another one, and they'll have to cure that one. Ultimately we become destabilized and we die, all of us. So let us try and treat aging as the central disease, and from that as the unitary disease, we'll be treating the cascade that follows from that.

Some people say it is hubris to target aging, but I think that this is because until relatively recently nothing worked. It has been an aspiration of human beings for millennia to find the fountain of youth, and nothing has worked. So people are skeptical about the fact that it might be working now. Why now rather than 20 years ago or 20 years in the future? But the fact is that it is now, and we need to seize the moment and rise to the challenge. We need much more funding to come into this area, and that funding will drive the science. We need many more advocates for this cause to come to the fore and spread the word, that this is going to be monumentally great for humanity.

In my own case, I've set up a charity with Andrew Scott, who wrote The 100 Year Life, and we do a Longevity Week in London. We did the first one last year, and we're doing the next one in November of this year, to spread the word. This will have a big societal impact, on consumption, on the way in which we look at the trajectory of life, but it is also going to have a major impact on us as human beings. In the past you'd have expected to live to about 85 or 90, the same with me, and now we're very likely to live to 110 or 120. So let's do it. Let's make it happen. I think that all of us, yourself, myself, have relatives, dear friends, acquaintances, who are suffering the indignities of aging as it currently exists. We would like to relieve that burden of suffering by extending the healthy span of life. The personal motivation is a very big factor. Here in Berlin, there are 300 or 400 people at this conference, and I imagine that all of them, beyond the business side of things, have an altruistic motivation for this as well. More people need to do it, so get on to it!

The elevator pitch for high net worth people thinking about investing in this space is that, first of all, we're at the front end of a huge upward curve. I said earlier on that this was like the internet dial up phase of longevity biotech. If you'd invested in the internet in the very early days, you'd be more than a billionaire now, you'd be one of the richest people on the planet. We're at that stage now, so the opportunity for investors is huge. But you could do both. You could invest in something like the SENS Research Foundation or the Buck Institute or one of those wonderful organizations that is trying to advance the cause, and at the same time invest in some of the companies that come out of those institutions. We've undertaken two joint ventures with the Buck Institute, we've made a couple of investments as a result of introductions by the SENS Research Foundation, including the organ regeneration program. So if you're a sensible billionaire, you will be putting some of your funds to work in a combination of a charitable enterprise that drives the science and the businesses themselves that come out of those enterprises.

Comments

Surprisingly, I agree with Jim Mellon more than I thought beforehand. It seems that his views are less mainstream now and more SENS-oriented. Good to hear that.

Posted by: Antonio at August 12th, 2019 4:05 PM

"Less mainstream"??

He's loading up with old school small molecule pharma people - a dead end for the complex damage repair that needs to get done

And $40+ million!!?? into serial biotech disappointment Mike West of Advanced Cell, oh..... I mean Biotime, oh..... I mean Lineage....come on!

How many remember this from 30+ years ago where that "star" is making the same old promises - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=drfX2E_uMJc

$300 million later..............

Posted by: Jason Zeblinsky at August 12th, 2019 5:27 PM

Although senolytics are more popular by the day, I would not call them mainstream, and certainly they are part of the SENS approach.

Also I would not call growing a liver inside a limph node "mainstream" either.

Nor regenerating the thymus to fight immunosenescence.

Mainstream in gerontology are CR mymetics, etc.

Also, I simply said "less mainstream", I didn't said "not mainstream at all".

Posted by: Antonio at August 12th, 2019 11:30 PM

Well, I like Jim Mellon and what he is doing.

First, he is generally following SENS rejuv with his money so he is the right direction unlike many others such as Sinclair. Also, he is quite rich and putting alot of his funds for this endeavor. He is also quite public with his intentions encouraging others. So, IMO, he is similar to Audrey, alot of money and doing something useful with it.

Now if we can encourage the Google boys, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, Ellison, and others to put a chunk of their wealth towards rejuv research, that would be awesome.

I am disappointed that there has not been significant progress on lab approved highly effective solyntic treatments yet. Too slow for me, getting old quick.

Posted by: Robert at August 13th, 2019 2:00 AM

This isn't a rant. I am very happy that Jim Mellon is involved.

Unfortunately for someone who wants to invest in the SENS/ Damage Repair approach Juvenescence ltd. seems not that appealing. Only 3 out of the 10 companies currently in their pipeline are working in that field (I don't count the AI companies and CR/Exercise mimics).

As a retail investor it is hard to get access to invest in damage repair companies early. And in the case of Juvenscence ltd. I would get 7 minimal promising companies to get to invest in 3 more promising companies (actually it is 2 since AgeX is already available at the stock market).

Serious question: Why does Jim Mellon invest in a company like Repair Biotechnologies but Juvenescence ltd. isn't involved? Maybe at a later stage or is it just cherry picking?

Posted by: Chris at August 13th, 2019 5:44 AM

My post above refers to the IPO of Juvenscence ltd. next year.

Posted by: Chris at August 13th, 2019 5:45 AM

@Antonio: At this point I question to what extent in aging biology SENS can be considered "non-mainstream". There's not much enthusiasm for the CR mimetics beyond the people whose funding is built around those things, and basic researchers who aren't terribly interested in translation and just want to know how aging works out of scientific curiosity.

The divide right now at the cutting edge is between people looking at epigenetic reprogramming and transposon inhibitors vs the damage repair focused people in the SENS camp and those adjacent to them. The former are definitely approaches that are "merely slowing aging" if we define aging as the accumulation of damage* but they nevertheless seem to have a much higher impact potential than the CR mimetics that people usually think of in relation to "merely slowing aging."

* and frankly, that might not actually be that accurate in terms of traditionally defined damage, at least not for all aspects of aging.

Posted by: Dylan Mah at August 13th, 2019 1:38 PM

@Dylan Mah:

In the "basic science" gerontology, damage accumulation by the normal operation of metabolism (as opposed to programmed aging) is certainly mainstream from long ago. Not exactly SENS but (recently) the Pillars of Aging theory.

In the clinical gerontology, the opposite is mainstream. That is, not removing the accumulated damage, but tweaking metabolism to force cells to behave in a more youthful way or in a stress-response way, like in CR, or like the more recent epigenetic reprogramming you mention. It's as if they are applying the programmed aging treatments nevertheless they agree with the non-programmed theories.

The damage elimination camp is gaining adepts, but I think it has still a long way to go until becoming mainstream.

Posted by: Antonio at August 13th, 2019 3:43 PM

To all the above:
I am a 86-years old man and obviously have no time left to wait

for a comprehensive trial on Fisetin as a senolytic.

By my extensive reading about Fisetin I came to the conclusion that

it is the best senolytic available now, but with only about 8% of bioavailability.

At the same time, there is a convincing research that shows that liposomal

encapsulation of Fisetin allows a 47 fold increase in relative bioavailability

compare to free Fisetin. And the research clearly outlines the specification

to produce this supplement.

Could anybody bring this highly improved Fisetin to

the market, it will be a hit and I will be the first to buy it!

Many thanks! Dr ZG PhD in Engineering

See Re: Johanne Seguin, et. al,

"Liposomal encapsulation of the natural flavonoid fisetin improves bioavailability

and antitumor efficacy"

International J of Pharmaceutics Vol 444, Issues 1-2, 28 Feb 2013, Pp 146-154

Posted by: Zinovy Goldenberg at August 18th, 2019 9:57 AM

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