A core point regarding wealth, realized by many but only acted on by a few to date, is that being the wealthiest individual in the graveyard begins to look very foolish in an era in which research and development is producing the basis for rejuvenation therapies. Historically, people traded time for wealth. Now, we enter the start of the era in which people can trade wealth for time. Fortunately, this is a collaborative venture: no-one wins on their own. Either sufficient funding is devoted to the right projects in rejuvenation biotechnology, and all humanity benefits as a result, or we as a society collectively fail to achieve that goal.
Another important point made in this article is that it is challenging for outsiders to make sense of a field of endeavor in which half of the participants appear, on the surface at least, to be modernized versions of 1970s snake oil supplement salespeople, along with a good scattering of eccentric or fraudulent larger than life characters, as well as unhelpful ventures that are clearly chasing or talking up the hype of a longevity industry while providing nothing of any great value.
How does a layperson pick out the legitimate, exciting science of rejuvenation, such as senolytic therapies, or epigenetic reprogramming, from the garbage that is discussed and marketed in exactly the same terms? Eventually the good drives out the bad, but for now we're still stuck with a mess of alchemists pretending to be scientists, alongside supplement salespeople making hay while the sun shines, siphoning attention and funding away from actually valuable projects.
The super-rich eventually reach a point where having more money doesn't improve their lives very much. "If you buy a yacht, you can always get a bigger yacht; if you buy a plane, you can always get a bigger plane. But the extent to which your life is changing with more money is actually very minimal." It makes more sense to direct funds to being healthier and living longer. Such deep-pocketed individuals and groups are looking to be the biggest investors in longevity research. Most of the $4.4 billion invested over the last five years into understanding whether or not reprogramming our cells might help us live longer has gone into Altos Labs, a biotech company whose funders are thought to include Jeff Bezos and Yuri Milner.
A sense of hope and optimism was palpable at the Longevity Investors Conference. I got the impression that most people believed that, with enough funding, positive scientific results were just a few years away. And with that, we'd be on the road to reliably extending human healthspan. The presenters were a mix of longtime academics, biotech startups, and people selling the idea of longevity as a high-end luxury good for those who frequent spas and lavish retreats. Some have been studying the biology of aging for decades, and are well-respected among their peers. But I also met a young man who told me that breathing low-oxygen air could benefit multiple aspects of my health - and who then commented that he "didn't believe" in covid vaccines. A 67-year-old man took to the stage to tell us that, since he'd been taking his own supplement, his biological age had reversed, and he was now biologically only 49 years old.
How is an investor - or anyone else, for that matter - meant to make sense of all these claims? Ask an academic, and they'll tell you that the answer is education-the more people know about the biology of aging and how clinical trials work, the better placed they are to work out how much faith to put in any claim. Many agree that it's the wild claims made by some - claims that we could live to be a thousand years old, or avoid death entirely - that have helped bring attention and investment to the field. But they have also tarnished its reputation as a scientific discipline.
Others say that while there's more hype in biotech than academia, they thinks that any hype tends to be short-lived. "If you're selling hot air, you can't get away with doing that for very long." I've been writing about the science of aging for over a decade myself, and I'm not sure I fully agree with him. I've seen shoddy science get plenty of press attention. I've seen smart scientists fall prey to flimsy claims about health-extending supplements. But I've also seen some fascinating and tantalizing research - enough to want to follow it through and find out if these approaches really will be as beneficial for people as they are for lab animals.