We Still Have a Long Way to Go in Telling the World that the Longevity Industry Exists

I have been slacking on conference reports these past few months, but largely because the conferences I was attending were not wholly dedicated to longevity science or the longevity industry. I was at BASEL Life in Switzerland, where Alex Zhavoronkov and the In Silico Medicine crew had taken over a section of the broader conference to talk about aging, at the Founders Forum events in New York and Boston, where one will find a handful of influential people from outside our community who are interested in longevity, and LSX USA, a Boston biotech industry gathering. This week I was attending Giant Health in London, where the Aikora Health principals and Liz Parrish of BioViva Science organized a longevity-focused gathering within the much larger event.

Once one steps out of the circle of events dedicated to our community, such as Undoing Aging, Ending Age-Related Diseases, Longevity Therapeutics, and so forth, it is quite striking to see just how much more work there is left to do in terms of telling people that we exist. That there is a rejuvenation research community, that there are a few score startup biotech companies developing ways to treat aging, that the first rejuvenation therapies already exist in the form of senolytics, and they are pretty impressive so far in comparison to all other past approaches to age-related disease.

At BASEL Life, most of the people I talked to were scientists from diverse areas in the life sciences, and they had no real idea that upheaval was underway in the treatment of aging. At Founders Forum in Boston I moderated a panel of folk from the longevity industry (Doug Ethell of Leucadia Therapeutics, David Gobel of the Methuselah Foundation, Carolina Reis of OneSkin Technologies, and James Clement of Betterhumans), to talk about why matters are proceeding more slowly than we'd all like. The information that there was a longevity industry, that this was a thing that actually existed, was news to nearly everyone in the room. At LSX USA, also in Boston, I talked to a number of broader biotech industry CEOs and venture partners who were similarly politely interested to find out that rejuvenation therapies exist, are under development, and there is about to be a great up-ending of business as usual in the treatment of aging.

For that last crowd, I think the point is that nothing really exists to their eyes until there are a few companies with approved therapies. The longevity industry is still in phase I trials, more or less. Repurposing of existing drugs for longevity, such as dasatinib (potentially very beneficial) and metformin (definitely not) isn't on the radar of venture funds. Similarly for the possibility that some supplements or plant extracts are meaningfully senolytic, such as fisetin or piperlongumine. This is all inside baseball to the mainstream biotech industry until phase III trials have happened and at least a few companies with FDA approved drugs are trading on the stock exchanges. Or at least until the principals of some Big Pharma entity decide they want a seat at the longevity industry table and start buying companies with phase I or phase II successes.

People like Kelsey Moody of Ichor Therapeutics and Jim Mellon of Juvenescence quite explicitly see this as the big next step in the development of this industry. Currently the bulk of the biotech industry, however you want to characterize it, as Big Pharma, as major established venture funds, and so forth, doesn't know and doesn't care about the longevity industry. Part of the point of building a new industry of startup biotech companies is to change this fact. In the bigger picture, we are not doing this to produce a handful of therapies, though they will certainly be helpful, but rather to convince the broader industry in the only way it can be convinced, by succeeding in the production of therapies that have meaningful results in aging and age-related disease. Do this, and the floodgates of funding and resources will truly open.

Comments

There are indeed many people who are still skeptical that repairing the damage caused by biological aging is even possible-in-principle, when the reality is that the evidence shows that of course it is.

I just recently read an article wherein the journalist referred to regenerative medicine as "hypothetical" as if it was some kind of grand distant unknown like going into parallel universes that have different laws of physics.

At some point in the not-too-distant-future, the data will become too striking to dismiss (we should have already reached that point, but removing psychological barriers requires more than what's currently available in the literature, apparently) and the rejuvenation biotechnology industry will be fully accepted by the mainstream, like it always should have been.

Posted by: Quinn at October 18th, 2019 4:51 PM

I agree with you, Reason, that the industry is still in its infancy and the pace of progress is frustrating. But I must say that since the first AgingPharma conference a lot has changed:

1. There is now Juvenescence and Jim Mellon (the most dominant force and knowing him, he is just getting started)
2. There is Peter Diamandis, and he is now outright focused on longevity with a plethora of amazing ventures.
3. There is Unity, Life Biosciences, and many others
4. There are specific longevity-focused VCs. And some, like Longevity Vision Fund are exceptionally professional with some hardcore DD
5. There are aging clocks (and more than one)
6. Advances in AI are just mindblowing. Unfortunately, the validation time is too long. But we are finding new ways to expedite it.

The bad things are:
1. The general interest in longevity biotechnology did not grow exponentially as I expected. Since the publication of the Ageless Generation the world's population grew by almost a billion people. But our community grew by maybe a few thousand people...
2. The amount of debt in the global economy is now out of control. The next financial crisis will hit very hard. And it may be a good idea to start planning the "John Galt" sustainable community somewhere in a remote location because massive currency devaluations may lead to a complete stop and re-set of major economies.
3. There is no sense of urgency. I work like a dog for 15 years and will start degrading soon. The tought of continuous decline and loss of function is terrifying and making me and a few others work nights and weekends on the problem. But the majority of the people are waiting for others to solve the problem instead of joining the race or switching from the marathon mode into a sprint.
The pace of progress is a bit frustrating.

Posted by: Alex Zhavoronkov at October 18th, 2019 11:18 PM

One of the best talking points (or showing points) I've been able to come up with so far to try to convince folks in the wider biotech/health/medicine worlds that they should pay attention is the chart of number of aging companies founded by year for the past decade:
http://agingbiotech.info/companies/number_of_aging_companies_founded_by_year_2009-2018_chart.html

Reason (and Alex), thank you for your tireless efforts to engage with wider communities to spread the message!

Posted by: Karl Pfleger at October 19th, 2019 12:09 AM

we dont need to convince everybody, we only need to convince enough

Posted by: scott at October 19th, 2019 4:47 AM

Hey Karl, I just had a glimpse at your site. That's the best company list I've seen so far. Thanks for that!
Regarding that graph. Let's hope that this is the beginning of an exponential growth of aging companies. Then we could have a thousand companies in around 20 years or so.

Posted by: Chris at October 19th, 2019 4:57 AM

Alex Zharkanov, was surprised to see you posting here and good to see you! Nice comment response and let me know if you see this. I will add more to this to answer your honest feedback of the situation.

Posted by: Griffin Brumley at October 19th, 2019 12:05 PM

The biggest issue is that there has been WAY too much hype for the little guy (and the small retail investor), early on

When you trot out Jim Mellon saying that everyone is going to make millions in longevity bio, or keep hyping that Jeff Bezos invested (a pittance) of his wealth in Unity, you are doing a disservice to the whole field

Those folks can lose money and hold out for years - the little guys, who may have no real biotech investing experience, can't

It hasn't helped that that all the major public companies in the space (AgeX, ResTORbio, Unity, etc.) went public with no clinical data, are years away from pivotal work, and are down significantly 60-90% from their IPOs

And the fact that the floats are all dominated by insiders, doesn't help the uninitiated

All that adds up to investors that will leave the space, and not come back for a long time, if at all

Posted by: Jim DeBello at October 19th, 2019 12:17 PM

Hi

Has anyone read new scientist magazine dated 13 July 2019 article entitled why everything you know about nutrition is wrong, convoluted studies , cherry picked evidence, contradictory advice. Disturbing article, how do we now believe what is written in so called scientific backed studies ?

Posted by: Lou at October 21st, 2019 4:08 AM

Lou, I read the freely available portion of said article. I already knew most studies were junk. At best the junk studies are well intended but poorly executed/designed, at worst they are propaganda by ideologues (e.g. vegans demonizing meat consumption) or commercial interests (e.g. sugar industry sponsorship of research demonizing fat consumption). I even suspect many of the junk studies coming out of China are part of a larger State sponsored disinformation campaign.

Posted by: JohnD at October 21st, 2019 12:53 PM

A disturbing article, how can we now believe what is written in so-called scientific studies?.

You have to understand it and know the truth. Aging accelerating foods have been massively promoted for over 60 years. If you know what aging is causing and how aging accelerators work, you will get to know fake news. Various educators and nutritional counselors help spread the demagoguery free of charge just to show off they know it.

Posted by: Dalis Dobrota at October 21st, 2019 6:33 PM

Aging-accelerating food painlessly escalates aging and shortens life. As a result, the planet is not overloaded with humans. I think this is a trend that will continue because it is necessary. Aging-accelerating medicines and dietary supplements are also being marketed. They are very popular by the way.

Posted by: Dalis Dobrota at October 21st, 2019 6:41 PM

@ Karl Pfleger. Hi Karl. Can you check your your email provided in the site please
? I sent you a message expressing my interest to help in improving your website. Thank you. Alex

Posted by: Alek Ales at October 23rd, 2019 3:07 AM

> Has anyone read new scientist magazine dated 13 July 2019 article entitled why everything you know about nutrition is wrong, convoluted studies , cherry picked evidence, contradictory advice. Disturbing article, how do we now believe what is written in so called scientific backed studies ?

If it was up to me, I would stop the nutrition studies altogether. The benefits of these studies are marginal. We should study drugs, regenerative medicine, and gene therapy. In that order.
Nutrition is easy and makes nice dinner discussion topic but in the context of longevity, it is overrated.

Posted by: Alex Zhavoronkov at October 24th, 2019 2:12 PM

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