The Milken Institute has published a set of interviews with a variety of scientists and non-scientists on topics of human longevity. A few these are of interest to those of who would like to see a fast path to rejuvenation therapies unfold in the years ahead. Some of the others illustrate a point I made last week, which is that while all that really needs to happen in this field is for the biotechnologies of rejuvenation to be developed, and as quickly and directly as possible, there are those who feel that the sociological aspects of human longevity must be talked to death in advance. Thus broader advocacy initiatives tend to pull in all sorts of figures who have nothing useful to say about the practical challenges of funding and developing rejuvenation therapies, but who are instead more concerned with how people feel about the topic, or the reaction of the endless rolling bane that is politics, or good health practices in the absence of rejuvenation therapies, or other line items that really, truly, do not matter at the end of the day.
If the therapies are built, the peoples of the world will quickly adapt, just as they have for any number of past revolutionary advances, and no-one will give much thought to all who felt that there should have been more discussion beforehand. If the therapies are not built, then we all suffer and die, and no-one will give much thought to all who felt that there should have been more discussion beforehand. The primary focus should be on the building, not the talking. This, of course, is not a popular point of view. One counterargument is that the sort of broad advocacy that involves a lot of talk that I’d consider largely irrelevant to the task at hand is in fact necessary in order to win the support of the public, or at least the largest and most conservative sources of funding, organizations that follow the tide of opinion makers rather than striking out in the right direction regardless. Whether or not this is the case is an interesting question, but larger advocacy initiatives all tend to proceed as though it were, and are arguably led by people who know a lot more about advocacy at scale than I do.
My impression of the past few decades of progress is that we started moving a lot faster once the first rejuvenation therapies were robustly demonstrated in the laboratory, but the details of that progress may or may not support my suggested view of the world above. In any case, I’ll draw your attention here to the interviews with Laura Deming and Jim Mellon, both investors in the field of rejuvenation biotechnology, and the former a scientist who has studied aging in addition. As people who are helping to fund the research and development, they are among those who have interesting things to say on the topic. But do glance at the other interviews as well; you may find them interesting regardless.
How can we make longevity an essential topic for potential investors?
I think that problem is actually already solved. People in the financial community, at least right now, are rapidly investing or interested in the space. That’s the complete opposite of eight years ago, when nobody wanted to put capital into it. One thing that’s been helpful is that companies either get access to the public markets or get started with less capital from well-earned means, and these two events have really raised the profile with the field. Going forward, I think what will be helpful is for longevity researchers to make better strides in science. I think the most important thing will be getting that first longevity-specific drug into the hands of patients. Once we see a drug from this area of science that actually produces a measurable benefit to patients that they could not have gotten otherwise, that will be the largest invite to new investors.
What do you think are the main reasons for scientists focusing on increasing healthy lifespan?
One big driver has been that nobody wants just to increase lifespan. It’s nobody’s idea of a good plan. It’s kind of fascinating, because I think in the early days of the field, we didn’t really understand what it was that we wanted to optimize for. But now it’s very clear to everyone that we should be focusing on increasing the healthy part of the life, not just maximum lifespan in an old, decrepit state.
Can you assess the current climate of longevity science? Is the market ready for this opportunity?
The market is now ripe for development. The excitement over rapalogs and senolytics, in particular, is helping, as is the prospect of the metformin trial, TAME. I expect that in the next year a lot of venture capital and possibly public funding will flow the way of longevity science. I think we are at about the internet of 1995 in terms of development.
How does the message of Juvenescence apply to nations that have yet to confront the challenges of population aging?
This will be one of the challenges of our age. Africa is the only place in the world where populations continue to grow rapidly. There is no reason why the life expectancy of Africans on average won’t reach at least 100 within 30 years. Policymakers really need to drill down into this.
Are there other ways, besides taking your view of aging as a disease, that might increase government and corporate-funded research into aging?
Yes, we must improve our collective lobbying. The best way to do this is to point out the inevitability of pension scheme failures if governments don’t recognize the ultra-longevity that is coming soon – and quickly.
How are younger workers affected when older employees remain on the job past the traditional retirement age?
The nature of work will have to change. As Joan Ruff of the AARP has said, older workers will not only be hired, they will be required. I believe that there will be plenty of work for all, it will just be different. Don’t get caught up in the gloom of automation. Just be observant of trends.