How to Start a Biotech Company in the Longevity Industry

Based on discussions with various folk at scientific and industry conferences earlier this year, regarding whether or not our rejuvenation research, development, and advocacy community is challenging to approach and understand as an outsider, I recently put together an introductory document for entrepreneurs entitled How to Start a Biotech Company in the Longevity Industry (PDF). Given my experiences, it is primarily aimed at entrepreneurs with previous experience in other industries, who are now interested in helping to treat aging as a medical condition and there by greatly improve the human condition.

The young and rapidly growing longevity industry encompasses the clinical development of rejuvenation therapies, such as senolytic therapies to clear senescent cells from old tissues, or the thymic regeneration project taking place at Repair Biotechnologies, the company I founded with Bill Cherman last year. It also includes initiatives that can only modestly slow aging, such as mTOR inhibitor and NAD+ upregulation programs. All told there are around 100 companies in the industry as of late 2019, of which perhaps a fifth could be argued to be working on programs relevant to the SENS damage repair view of aging, and which thus might lead to rejuvenation therapies. Clearly we still have some way to go in persuading people that only damage repair and rejuvenation is worth the effort, when looking at the long term and the big picture.

Yes, once the sizable expense of clinical development has been expended, it will be a good deal for older patients to be able to spend $60 a month on a drug that halves the rate of influenza infection - this more or less describes an early use case for an mTOR inhibitor, based on the work taking place at resTORbio. But the cost of clinical development of an mTOR inhibitor and a senolytic are pretty much the same, and the senolytic is vastly, enormously more beneficial, based on the animal data to date. It is transformative, where mTOR inhibitors produce only incremental gains. No-one should be choosing to work on projects that can only produce small gains, when there are many alternatives that have the potential to produce large gains, and yet most people in the industry are doing just that.

This is not why I wrote an introduction to starting a biotech company in the longevity industry. I wrote it because I was having the same conversation with interested entrepreneurs from other industries over and again at conferences. The longevity industry is in an interesting state at the moment: there is far more funding than there are early stage companies to absorb it, there are not enough entrepreneurs, and there are scores (at the very least) of scientific programs relevant to the treatment of aging as a medical condition that are ready for clinical translation, but lacking anyone to carry out the work. That there is so much venture funding and excitement is attracting interest from the broader entrepreneurial community, but not rapidly or robustly enough. It takes time to find out what questions one should even be asking when coming into the longevity industry completely naive.

Thus the need for more introductory documents, and thus this introductory document. Because it comes from me, it is intended not just to help newcomers find their way, but also to point out that working on rejuvenation is far, far more beneficial for all parties concerned than is the case for work on slowing aging. The first draft of the document is available as a PDF. Hopefully it proves useful, and, as always, feedback is welcome.

How to Start a Biotech Company in the Longevity Industry (PDF)

You are an entrepreneur who wishes to start a longevity industry biotech startup, but your experience to date is in a different industry. This document is an initial primer and guide to help you get started. New classes of therapy, targeting the mechanisms of aging, have the potential to prevent and reverse all age-related disease, and greatly extend healthy human lifespan. The first rejuvenation therapies are already under clinical development in numerous startup companies. This new longevity industry is growing exceptionally rapidly. Venture funding for longevity startups is increasing enormously year over year. Yet there are far too few entrepreneurs and new startups in comparison to the available funding. Your arrival will be welcomed: this is a friendly, and close-knit community.

You are entrepreneurial. You have heard the buzz about the new longevity industry: the rapid growth in funding, the numerous billionaires becoming involved, the new approaches to medicine that are targeting the mechanisms of aging to prevent and reverse the diseases and frailty of old age. You want to get involved, to start a company, to do something about aging ... to change the world for the better. But how? Whatever your past industry, here you must be the business co-founder. Life science and its application to biotechnology is a vast, complex, intimidating field. Aging is its own highly specialized portion of that field. You need an understanding sufficient to identify a project to work on; you need a scientific co-founder; you need to know the investors and the movers and shakers. Where to even start?

This document is a starting point. We hope that it helps.


The last prediction by Aubrey de Grey about the progress of the SENS project I've heard earlier this year was, that the arriving of the "robust mouse rejuvenation" (RMR) should last now only 3 years, provided that there is sufficient funding of about 50 Million Dollars a year:

This sums up to an anstonishing 150 Million Dollars in total, astonishing because it is just 15% of the 1 Billion Dollar sum he had demanded for so many years in a farer past and is now a financial dimension that not only billionaires could afford to spend but multimillionaires - or small groups of multimillionaires - too of which there are existing a lot more than rare billionaires. Not to speak of the much lower investment for venture capitalists in the biotech area, pharma companies and the like...

However, without this funding it won't last 3 but more than 10 years just to reach the RMR, according for instance to the 2015 Longecity podcast with De Grey, where he spoke of 15 years even without(!) sufficient funding because of the normal scientific progress in the field. Then, of course, we always have of to add the time for the translation of the results in the mouse research to the clinical research in humans. In the past De Grey always predicted additional 15 years for this translation process and even if this would go now a little bit faster, it's unlikely that this process can be much shorter than 10 years. Consider alone all the different, complicated and very expensive stages the development, testing and approving new medicaments or therapies need usually, including all the regulatory issues. A first overview about the given procedures, time periods and costs in drug discovery, testing and approving just for a single drug - and the complete overcoming of all the "seven deadly sins" of aging we will not reach with just one single drug! - one find here:

So, without sufficient early stage funding it will last at least 20 but maybe about 25 or even more years until the reaching of escape velocity with SENS like therapies against age related diseases. Now, 20 to 25 years means 20 to 25 age groups that are lost, that is nearly one third of the whole population (considering the demographic aspect that the younger age groups are smaller in size than the older boomer generations), the majority of everyone who is older than 60 and nearly everyone who is suffering from age related diseases already today, here and right now! That is one of the main reasons, why the health driven focus, Aubrey de Grey has propagated in the last years, cannot motivate greater parts of society to engage for anti aging research, because the ones who are suffering the most would gain the less or even nothing at all, the vast majority of the younger ones is (yet) not directly affected.

Now I read in your text above, that there are more than 20(!) companies in the longevity industry "that are working on programs relevant to the SENS damage repair view of aging" and especially: "there is far more funding than there are early stage companies to absorb it"!?? So my question is: have I missed something relevant in the last months, have I missed even the revolution in this whole area and the lack of funding is NOT any longer "the biggest single obstacle" De Grey stated for so many years for the development in the aging research field? You think that the SENS foundation does NOT longer need donations, does not need the 50 Million Dollars a year itself to reach just the RMR within the next few years?? Or has even got this money already!???

Please comment.

Posted by: Lothar at November 21st, 2019 8:25 AM

@Lothar: what goes on in the lab and what goes on in startup companies are two very different things. The companies are only working on things that are ready to go, and the majority of SENS is still firmly in the lab. We need an industry ready to pick up the work as it becomes ready, but we also need the research funding to get it to a point of readiness.

Posted by: Reason at November 21st, 2019 9:17 AM

Ok Reason, thanks for your reply. I will keep that differentiation in mind.

Posted by: Lothar at November 21st, 2019 10:56 AM
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