The yearly Longevity Week events in London are organized by Jim Mellon's network of allies, to promote the longevity industry and the concept of working towards therapies to treat aging as a medical condition. Sadly I could not attend this year, a combination of conflicting events in the US and it being too soon after conferences started up again post-COVID-19 to commit to international travel. Fortunately, one can still find a few notes on the proceedings online, and video of presentations will usually follow.
This week was "Longevity Week" with numerous events organised in the UK on what we now call "geroscience". Geroscience is predicated not only on the idea that human lifespan can be extended well beyond the biblical standard of three score years and ten, but also that we can avoid the degenerative diseases of old age which afflict so many seniors. So "healthspan" - the length of time that we can live without chronic and debilitating conditions such as diabetes, osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, macular degeneration, Parkinson's, or dementia - is just as important in this discussion as lifespan. That is an important starting point since, although life expectancy has increased significantly across the world within my own lifetime (from about 50 to 70), for many people those additional years are marred by ill health.
This November, a Master Investor event in central London brought together some of the leading scientists and entrepreneurs in this rapidly growing field. "Investing in the Age of Longevity" was the third event of this kind organised by Master Investor, inspired by our chairman Jim Mellon's passionate advocacy for geroscience. Indeed, it all started about five years ago when Jim took a road trip across the USA in a Honda Odyssey with the aim of meeting all the key players - academic scientists, biotech entrepreneurs, and visionary thinkers - who were formulating a body of ideas around the theme of longevity.
There is, as ever, a demographic and economic backdrop to these nascent medical technologies. In terms of the raw demographics, for the first time in the history of humanity there will be more old people (that's over-65s) than youngsters (under-16s) on the planet by 2050 - just 28 years away. The dependency ratio - that's the ratio of the number of people in work and paying tax to the number of people who are retired and receiving pensions - is in free fall in the developed world and is beginning to decline too in developing countries on account of declining fertility rates. These over-65s, to the extent that they get sick, are proving to be an increasing burden on state-funded and insurance-backed healthcare systems. The USA spends just over 17 percent of its GDP on healthcare today; but by 2040, based on current trends, the healthcare burden will double to 34 percent of GDP.
Just as the focus of medical science in the 19th and much of the 20th century was on the need to improve infant mortality and to cure the diseases of childhood, so the primary focus of medical science in the 21st century will be to prevent and cure the diseases of old age. Three leading healthcare economists have calculated that increasing the healthspan of humanity by just one year would be worth $38 trillion a year to the global economy. By increasing healthspans, lifespans will lengthen too.