Bezos billions fund new antiaging biotech start-up

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Longevity steps centre-stage as Jeff Bezos and Yuri Milner launch new antiaging venture Altos Labs.

Reprogramming tech is hot news right now; companies pushing the space include Shift Bioscience, Turn Biotechnologies, AgeX Therapeutics and Life Biosciences, and now the billionaires want their slice of the rejuvenation and antiaging pie.

Longevity.Technology: It is a truth universally acknowledged that when the world’s richest person conquers space, the next challenge is time. Altos Labs could be Jeff Bezos’ best shot at delaying aging and giving everyone, himself included, more years of healthy living.

With a rumoured $270m worth of funding already in the bag, Altos is coming out of the gate strong; however, a lot of the science is still in its early days, and while aging can be reversed in mice, we are still some distance from human clinical trials. Whether Altos has an altruistic or business focus still remains to be seen, but either way, it’s going to stir things up. Spectators will draw the obvious comparisons to Calico, Google’s research and development biotech company, which is still remarkably cagey about its work, but given the names involved, one would hope that Altos will be more forthcoming about any news. Stay tuned!

Biological reprogramming technology starts by rejuvenating cells in the lab and then builds on that technology to revitalise tissues, organs and, hopefully, bodies. There is a hope that previous success in rejuvenating mice could be scaled up to be available to turn back the clock on human aging.

According to reports, Altos incorporated in the US and the UK earlier this year; it plans to establish a number of institutes in places including the Bay Area and San Diego in the US, Cambridge in the UK and Japan. Technology Review indicated that Altos investors include Jeff Bezos and billionaire Yuri Milner, who along with his wife Julia, has invested in Altos through a foundation [1].

The list of people rumoured to be involved in Altos’ research is impressive and includes:

  • Nobel Laureate Shinya Yamanaka, whose pioneering work in reprogramming led to the discovery of the Yamanaka factors.
  • The Salk Institute’s Juan Carlos Izpisúa Belmonte who applied Yamanaka’s embryonic stem cell technique to mice, resulting in observed signs of age reversal.
  • UCLA’s Steve Horvath, whose aging clocks accurately measure human aging.
  • Jennifer Doudna, who won a Nobel Prize in 2020 for her co-discovery of CRISPR gene editing.
  • University of California researcher Peter Walter.
  • Cell reprogramming specialist Wolf Reik, formerly of the UK’s Babraham Institute.
  • Manuel Serrano from the Institute for Research in Biomedicine.

Steve Horvath, Juan Carlos Izpisúa Belmonte and Manuel Serrano have already collaborated on epigenetic alterations with Iduna (part of Life Biosciences), which is preparing for human trials in the near future.

The reputed salaries ($1 million a year with equity) are attractive, but the lure is more than that, explained Serrano, who has declared his intention to move to Cambridge in the UK to join a new Altos facility. “The philosophy of Altos Labs is to do curiosity-driven research,” he said. “This is what I know how to do and love to do. In this case, through a private company, we have the freedom to be bold and explore. In this way it will rejuvenate me.

“The aim is to understand rejuvenation; I would say the idea of having revenue in the future is there, but it’s not the immediate goal [1].”

Bezos has myriad investments, including aerospace company Blue Origin, Twitter, Uber and agritech company Plenty. He has invested in Grail, a healthcare company focused on early cancer detection, immunotherapy-developer Juno Therapeutics and Mindstrong Health which is seeking to transform mental health through innovations in virtual care. The former Amazon CEO is also thought to have invested in the antiaging company Unity Biotechnology.

Cell reprogramming is still in its infancy; its aim is to reverse aging by activating latent stem cells, reprogramming normal cells to become stem cells again, and thereby making people younger. There are risks to be overcome – some of the mice in Izpisúa Belmonte’s lab developed teratomata (tumours made from different types of tissue) – but also rewards; David Sinclair’s lab used Yamanaka factors to successfully reset neurons in the eye to a youthful state.

One thing is certain – given the scientific pedigree and the amount of funding, Altos Labs certainly has a shot at antiaging success.

[1] https://www.technologyreview.com/2021/09/04/1034364/altos-labs-silicon-valleys-jeff-bezos-milner-bet-living-forever/

Image credit: lev radin / Shutterstock.com
Eleanor Garth
Deputy Editor Now a science and medicine journalist, Eleanor worked as a consultant for university spin-out companies and provided research support at Imperial College London and various London hospitals in a former life.

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