OpenCures’ Kevin Perrott talks about empowering the consumer with their own health data.
One of the Longevity sector’s leading voices came to the field relatively late having built a successful career running his family’s motorcycle business. Now he’s using some of the lessons learned in the motorcycle trade to change the way we target aging. Kevin Perrott, co-founder of SENS Research Foundation and Oisin Biotechnologies, is now CEO of OpenCures, a start-up focused on using community research and individuals’ health data to discover and develop interventions in age-related disease.
We caught up with Perrott recently to find out more about where the idea behind OpenCures came from.
“Our family business has survived 50 years and multiple economic downturns,” he says. “And we’ve managed to survive those 50 years, watching all of our competitors come and go, because we cared about the customer. The ones who really loved motorcycles and wanted to be treated like human beings, with respect and not just as a wallet, they stuck with us.”
“How can we bring the customer into the health technology development paradigm and serve their needs?”
This focus on the consumer is what Perrott believes can help change the development of health related products and services.
“How can we bring the customer into the health technology development paradigm and serve their needs?” he asks. “How can we use their energy and interests to drive research and technology development so that we actually come up with products that they care about and that they will buy?”
Of course, Perrott admits, science is a little different than a motorcycle sales franchise, and his road to OpenCures is driven by a desire to minimize the time taken to develop interventions. He recalls hearing about rapamycin in 2008.
“Rapamycin was a poster child from a marketing perspective – we have a drug which can extend healthy lifespan in a mammal,” he recalls. “We should have been shaking our pom poms and shouting it from the rooftops. But then it took until 2017 for there to even be a proper human clinical trial to actually test whether or not rapamycin works at all in humans.”
This led Perrott to the realization that the barriers to beating aging were not technological – the science was there to be done, but the barriers were entirely human.
“I started really seeing that the system was almost designed not to develop interventions,” he says. “It was actually designed to maximise profit, satisfy ego and a whole bunch of other things – really the goal was to use the excuse of developing interventions for personal gain.”
Perrott has now been working in the field for 15 years and is concerned about the speed at which the Longevity sector is progressing.
“I’ve gone from 40 years old to 56 and I see really almost no progress to speak of that is important, frankly,” he says. “Nobody knows anything. Everybody has these ideas – small little sparks, small clues that they’re pursuing as if they are gospel and everybody gets excited about them.”
“In order to have something that would actually restore or reverse or extend lifespan, we’re going to need more than rapamycin or stem cell transplants.”
While a huge number of factors are viewed as drivers of aging, Perrott feels that a lot more understanding is needed to be able to achieve real results in humans.
“In order to have something that would actually restore or reverse or extend lifespan, we’re going to need more than rapamycin or stem cell transplants,” he says. “We don’t even know when we take vitamin D, vitamin E or any supplement, whether or not it’s good for us, because our bodies are so different, and our biochemistry is different.”
Perrott believes addressing all the different age-related diseases is not going to be a one-size-fits-all approach and that we need a better understanding of human health before real progress can be made.
“What is necessary in order to tell whether an intervention is working in a short period of time, is to be able to find molecular signatures within an individual that change,” he says. “But we don’t have a frame of reference, which is normal human health, against which to compare anything.
We’re always redoing, we don’t have a good ruler, we don’t have a metric for human health. Right now everything is fragmented and piecemeal, and nobody shares information. There are no common data sources and everybody’s competing with each other instead of competing against degenerative disease and death.”
To overcome this challenge Perrott believes the solution is to create a massively parallel exploration of the sample space of potential solutions and create a feedback system for consumers.
“I would like to be able to measure as many biological parameters as possible within an individual to give them a good idea as to what their health is,” he says. “This is something that people have been chasing for a long period of time. But the only way we can get to a place where we can help people predict their risk for particular diseases, when they’re getting close to those diseases, or when they’re moving away from those diseases, is if you have ways of measuring that without them actually having to get the disease.”
And Perrott believes achieving this should be possible.
“It is actually very straightforward to develop these databases of information of the biomarker levels of normal human health, it just means we need to measure it,” he says. “So we need an all-out effort to create this common reference and, if they aren’t going to do it, I’m going to do it, because I don’t want to die of a degenerative disease.”
“The most powerful entity in the equation is the individual – it’s their data that is required for that development.”
Empowering the consumer is at the heart of how Perrott proposes addressing this challenge and what is at the heart of OpenCure’s business.
“The most powerful entity in the equation is the individual – it’s their data that is required for that development,” he explains. “Right now, our data is basically given away for free. We give it and we have no control over it. So we have no influence over it. We don’t benefit from it. It’s just taken from us and used for whatever purpose the biotech companies and medical companies care.”
Perrott makes the case out that a data resource that truly reflected all aspects of an individual’s health would be unparalleled in its value, and it could be owned by the individuals themselves.
“So if we empower individuals by giving them the capacity to aggregate and focus the value of their data themselves, the insurance companies will fall into line, everybody will fall into line.”
“That is not something that the industry has ever considered, because they treat the patient and consumer like a disposable thing,” he says. “And that is what needs to change and it is going to change, even without my influence, because this is becoming very clear to people, that they are not being well served.”
“So if we empower individuals by giving them the capacity to aggregate and focus the value of their data themselves, the insurance companies will fall into line, everybody will fall into line,” adds Perrott. “Because then we’re actually turning the current health technology development paradigm from a broken economic cycle into a responsible economic cycle. And that can only benefit everybody.”