It remains to be seen as to whether Altos Labs is the new, large venture that patient advocates for the treatment of aging have been alluding to cryptically in recent months. It is apparently backed by a number of the high net worth individuals in the Left Coast business and philanthropy communities who are known to have a growing interest in the application of biotechnology to aging. Sadly, recent history suggests we should not expect much from such initiatives. Neither the Ellison Medical Foundation nor Calico Labs have done more than take on more of the same fundamental research into the progression of aging that is carried out at the NIA, at great expense, but no great gain. This is work that will not lead to rejuvenation therapies, and in many cases cannot even in principle achieve much in the matter of treating aging. The path to rejuvenation is to repair the known causes of aging and see what happens as a result. Unfortunately, most of the field spends most of its time trying to decipher how exactly aging proceeds in its complex later stages of cell and tissue dysfunction, without attempting to address those causes. Perhaps Altos Labs will be a different beast, given the apparent focus on cellular reprogramming. We can certainly hope so.
Last October, a large group of scientists made their way to Yuri Milner's super-mansion in the Los Altos Hills above Palo Alto. They were tested for covid-19 and wore masks as they assembled in theater on the property for a two-day scientific conference. Others joined by teleconference. The topic: how biotechnology might be used to make people younger. Milner previously started the glitzy black-tie Breakthrough Prizes, $3 million awards given each year to outstanding physicists, biologists, and mathematicians. But Milner's enthusiasm for science was taking a provocative and specific new direction. As the scientific sessions progressed, experts took the stage to describe radical attempts at "rejuvenating" animals.
That meeting has now led to the formation of an ambitious new anti-aging company called Altos Labs, according to people familiar with the plans. Altos hasn't made an official announcement yet, but it was incorporated in Delaware this year and a securities disclosure filed in California in June indicates the company has raised at least $270 million. Altos is pursuing biological reprogramming technology, a way to rejuvenate cells in the lab that some scientists think could be extended to revitalize entire animal bodies, ultimately prolonging human life. The new company, incorporated in the US and in the UK earlier this year, will establish several institutes in places including the Bay Area, San Diego, Cambridge, UK and Japan, and is recruiting a large cadre of university scientists with lavish salaries and the promise that they can pursue unfettered blue-sky research on how cells age and how to reverse that process.
Altos is certain to draw comparisons to Calico Labs, a longevity company announced in 2013 by Google co-founder, Larry Page. Calico also hired elite scientific figures and gave them generous budgets, although it's been questioned whether the Google spinout has made much progress. Calico has also started a lab whose focus is reprogramming; it published its first preprint on the topic this year.