Hype or hyper-exciting? Kate Batz of Longevity.Capital shares her views on the Longevity landscape and its investment potential: pragmatic optimism, but full of opportunity.
In the Longevity landscape there are now over 100 companies undertaking research and product development in the fields of senolytics, telomeres, stem cells, mitochondria and gene editing and some are progressing through the mid-stages of the clinical pipeline.
Longevity.Technology: The road to Longevity will be longer than some might wish, and therefore so will the development and regulatory approvals for rejuvenation therapy R&D pipelines. Meanwhile, early stage companies all around the world are releasing nanobots, reprogramming nerve signals and applying AI to create exciting and scalable contributions to human Longevity – this is why we take a wider view of the Longevity market.
There are some key people in the sector that we have interviewed who support a positive message of progress:
“The study of aging, in our modern understanding of it, is about 25 to 30 years old. The science is now entering a mature stage, going beyond just asking questions.”
Prof. Eric Verdin, CEO & President at Buck Institute for Research on Aging
“… the investment community is involved in supporting the various start-ups … And because they’re early, they’re also high risk. So they attract angel investors, seed investors, people who are comfortable with high risk, high reward.”
Dr Aubrey de Grey, CSO and Co-founder, SENS
“There will be an evolution where doctors increasingly become comfortable prescribing medicines to prevent diseases, rather than wait until they actually occur.”
Prof. David Sinclair, Department of Genetics, Harvard Medical School
“There are a maximum of 10 funds focused on Longevity,” he said. “There’ll be 50-70 in the next few years and in 10 years’ time there’ll be thousands.”
Jim Mellon, Chair and Co-founder, Juvenescence
“… it is now a routine procedure to reverse the aging of human cells in the laboratory dish. So, the application of these technologies to people, not just cells, is the step we are talking about …”
Dr Michael West, CEO, AgeX Inc.
Kate Batz of Longevity.Capital is a realist; as the Longevity sector scales and headlines appear about universal cures and incredible investment deals, Kate takes an overview. Yes, it’s an area of massive potential, but there are challenges of which we should be mindful.
Approaching Longevity from the right direction could have real rewards. We sat down with Kate to explore her views.
Longevity.Technology: What is the so-called “Longevity Hype”?
Kate Batz: Back in 2013, Silicon Valley tech giant Google promised the world that it will solve the problem of death. We have entered a new decade now, however, in my opinion, the progress in actual, practical life extension of humans is not far away from where it was back in 2013.
There is lots of positive hype on the subject: many people ranging from the general public to scientists, entrepreneurs and investors are confident that we are on the brink of creating actual human life extension techniques which will soon translate into real-world, accessible applications. These claims need to be validated and a set of guidelines used to help separate hype from reality around this hypothesis in a concrete, logical and tangible way.
Longevity.Technology: There has been tangible progress in the field, though?
Kate Batz: Absolutely. A number of Longevity-focused scientists have achieved a rather significant progress over the last decade with respect to stalling the aging process and in some cases even rejuvenation (restoring a young phenotype) in certain model organisms such as yeast, worms, flies and mice, including Maria Blasco and colleagues managing to extend the lifespan of mice by 24% by breeding a set of chimeric mice using embryonic stem cells with telomeres twice as long as usual.
“A number of Longevity-focused scientists have achieved a rather significant progress over the last decade …”
Longevity.Technology: Can these developments be applied to human Longevity?
Kate Batz: The number of headlines highlighting substantial increases in both the lifespan and healthspan of model organisms has grown dramatically in the past decade. However, while we see significant progress in model organisms, this is not the case with respect to humans. The overwhelming confidence of Silicon Valley-based Longevity companies that positive results in model organisms will translate into comparable outcomes in humans could be an imprudent assumption.
Such an assumption is something that Deep Knowledge Group’s Longevity-focused hybrid investment fund Longevity.Capital takes specific measures to avoid and de-risk by means of mandating preliminary positive results in humans as a core factor of its scientific due diligence for biomedical companies as well as by strategically prioritising other sectors with high degrees of market-readiness that are not exclusively focused on biomedicine, such as AI for Longevity, AgeTech and Longevity FinTech.
2020 Science published a study titled “Translating preclinical studies to humans” that summarises many of the issues at the heart of the difficulties in translating drug successes in model organisms into humans and provides some suggestions on how AI could be used to shift toward more human-centered approaches. “Instead of attempting to “humanise” animal experimental models, which is possible only to a limited extent, greater success may be obtained by humanizing computational models derived from animal experiments ”.
With the right set of approaches and methodologies, science could have progressed twice as much in terms of human healthspan extension compared with actual results achieved during the past 10 years.
Longevity.Technology: What is the reason for that, do you think?
Kate Batz: Aging research itself overvalues certain specific technologies and domains over others. With the enormous volume of resources behind Tech giants like Google and Amazon as well as many biotech, biomedicine and healthcare companies, we should have seen much higher success rates of practical, tangible developments aimed at extending human life and healthspan, enabling us to determine which research sectors are over-financed and which are under-financed; many publicly traded entities which can be viewed as Longevity-focused companies exhibited declining capitalisation.
“… we should have seen much higher success rates of practical, tangible developments aimed at extending human life and healthspan …”
Longevity.Technology: So what happens next?
Kate Batz: Undoubtedly, gaining a sufficient understanding of the nature of human aging and Longevity as well as the necessary scope of technologies required for practical human life extension to the point of achieving Longevity Escape Velocity (the point where more years are added onto the human lifespan than are taken away due to aging) would require substantial resources.
However, compared with the amount of funds being spent even on general aging research, not to mention the myriad of diseases that have their root causes in aging, we are not talking about unthinkable numbers. We estimate that $100bn per year over 10 years would be more than enough to get a real understanding and implementation of the technologies necessary for practical extension of healthy human Longevity, which is vastly less than the amounts currently being spent on cancer research or on FinTech, for example.
“We estimate that $100bn per year over 10 years would be more than enough to get a real understanding and implementation of the technologies necessary for practical extension of healthy human Longevity …”
Longevity.Technology: Longevity Escape Velocity – will we have lift off?
Kate Batz: The time it takes for us to achieve Longevity Escape Velocity is directly related to our efforts to proactively and pragmatically de-risk Longevity and neutralise Longevity hype by using validated approaches and providing sufficient funding and resources to sectors that show the greatest prospects for fast, efficient and economical real-world results – those backed by reality, not hype.
We believe that in 10 years Pharma will be able to treat or at least delay many age-related diseases and therefore prolong life and healthy Longevity by about a decade on average. In the short-term, it is likely that we will see tangible, real-world progress in human Longevity and progress will come from existing, validated market-ready technologies, rather than moonshot biotech R&D.
Kate further elaborates on her views on LinkedIn …