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.
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.