Forever Young – our exclusive with Sergey Young

As the longevity investor’s new fund turns 8 months old this month, we went five for five with Sergey Young.

Longevity.Technology: We often find people have a lot of different answers to this question: What drove you to invest in longevity?
Sergey Young: Like you say, for me it was also a number of different reasons, which led me to set up Longevity Vision Fund and invest in longevity. It all started with a routine visit to a doctor, where my blood tests – which I neglected for 7 years, thinking I was in perfect health – showed that my cholesterol was very high, which put me at risk of heart disease.

The only treatment offered by my doctor at the time was to take statins (cholesterol-reducing drugs), which I would have to take for the rest of my life. I definitely did not want to “live” on a pill forever, so I kept pushing my doctor for alternatives. Eventually, the doctor suggested I try a Mediterranean-style diet (lots of healthy fats, no sugar, etc.), which worked in bringing my cholesterol down to a normal range without any medication at all. Since then, I developed an interest in diet and a lifestyle-based approach to health and longevity, and started consulting everyone – from my amazing housekeeping lady to Forbes billionaires.

However, it was the meeting with Peter Diamandis last year in Vatican City at a conference on regenerative medicine, which was also attended by the Pope, that really kickstarted my longevity mission. Peter is a very inspiring individual, and his XPRIZE Foundation served as a great example of how you can make a difference on a large scale. This is where my mission to expand healthy lifespans of 1 billion people was born, which inspired the establishment of the $100M Longevity Vision Fund to fund longevity breakthroughs and make them affordable and accessible to as many people around the world as possible.

Longevity.Technology: There so many things that make longevity investment risky. Not only is it subject to all of the translational risks seen in more traditional biotech investing, but we’re also so early on in the game that its hard to tell if any of it will live up to its promise. Let’s say I’m a nervous first-time investor in longevity – you run one of the biggest funds in this space, give me some tips on how you assess risk.

Sergey Young: Longevity is a new and exciting field, which does bring certain risks – but at the same time, the potential is unmatched. We are currently undergoing a massive Longevity Revolution, where how medicine is practiced, drugs are developed, is changing.

Tech giants are becoming our new healthcare providers. Medicine is becoming more personalized.
I am often invited to speak at longevity and private wealth conferences, where investors ask me the same question. I start by explaining my personal “3 Horizons” framework to help map the longevity space:

  • Horizon 1: technology currently available that has the potential to expand our lifespans to 100 years, such as DIY diagnostics, wearables, digital healthcare delivery, medical software & apps
  • Horizon 2: emerging technology with the potential to expand our lifespans to 150 years, such as genome therapy & editing, stem cell therapy, nano-robots, AI-based diagnostics & drug discovery, smart hospitals
  • Horizon 3: age reversal, brain-computer integration, avatars, Internet of the Body

We invest across all three Horizons, but new investors may want to focus on the first two: early diagnostics, AI in healthcare, life extension technologies in general, and therapies addressing age-related diseases. As for dealing with investment risks, it is really important to have access to the scientific and medical expertise in this field, because scientific due diligence is a key part of the investment decision-making. At Longevity Vision Fund, we have an enviable team of medical and investment professionals, as well as a Scientific Advisory Board of world-class academics.

Longevity.Technology: You’ve recently set up the Longevity Vision Fund. Its early days, but being as there’s quite a bit of portfolio overlap with Bold Capital Partners (the venture fund you work on with Peter Diamandis). What’s its agenda? How do you hope to differentiate it from others (Juvenescence has a strong focus on regenerative medicine, for instance)?
Sergey Young: Longevity is such a new field for investment that there is room for everybody, which inspires collaboration and exchange of knowledge. As such, we don’t tend to compete or actively differentiate ourselves from others in this field – ultimately, we are all in this together with the same goal of improving health and longevity for humanity. All the work we do in this space is complimentary to each other’s. Having said that, at Longevity Vision Fund we do have a focus specifically on affordable and accessible technology.

As for BOLD Capital, we collaborate with them on deal origination and co-investment. So far, out of all our investments, three of them were done together with BOLD. We also love what Juvenescence does in the field – especially their collaborations with the world’s leading scientific hubs. Apart from Juvenescence, we also have other investments, including Life Biosciences and more – and we all share the same vision of extending healthy human lifespans and making the world a better place.

Longevity.Technology: One of the things you’re emphasizing with the Longevity Vision Fund is a focus upon “scalable” technologies, a focus that is really crucial for making longevity a genuine healthcare revolution — as opposed to one that solely benefits the rich. Which technologies in this space do you consider to be scalable and which not?
Sergey Young: Ultimately, the scalability of technology is what makes it accessible and affordable, which is our mission. All of the technology I mentioned earlier – AI, digital healthcare delivery, etc. is aimed at democratizing longevity in general and making it more accessible to society as a whole – regardless of income.

An example from our own portfolio of companies with scalable technologies with breakthroughs that are crucial for a genuine healthcare revolution (or as I call it – Longevity Revolution) includes Insilico, which uses AI for drug discovery and development. In fact, Insilico has recently demonstrated their capability to design, synthesize and validate a novel drug candidate in just 46 days (compared to the typical 2-3 years required for a standard approach used by the majority of pharma companies). This has an unparalleled potential of cutting drug development costs not only by shortening the drug development timeframe, but also by eliminating many false starts, which can occur at any stage of the development process.

Another example from our portfolio is EXO Imaging, which uses AI for ultrasound imaging, developing portable and inexpensive ultrasound device solutions, which require less training to use. However, scalable technologies are obviously not unique to our portfolio. Technology in general is becoming more democratized.

Longevity.Technology: In your upcoming book you’re set to cover the ethical ‘trade-offs’ of extended lifespans. What do you think could be the biggest benefit and the biggest detriment to us all living to 200?
Sergey Young: My upcoming book “Growing Young” focuses mostly on the first two Horizons of Longevity: the technology and the lifestyle changes required for longevity. Ethical trade-offs of living to 200 is a complex topic, which warrants a separate book altogether!

Having said that, I think the goal is not just to have “extended lifespans” or “to live to 200” (although this is my personal aspiration!) but the improved healthspan, the energy and the wellbeing that we could enjoy into the longer years of our lives. The benefits of having your healthy lifespan extended by a quarter (which is completely realistic already) or by a half (achievable in the very near future) are many: starting a second career, going after your goals, spending more time with your loved ones – the biggest benefits of longevity are all personal.

If we look from the perspective of healthy longevity, many detriments commonly associated with longer lifespans, such as an aging population, overburdening the economy, excessive medical costs become irrelevant. Extended healthy longevity means healthier populations, lower medical costs, a more productive workforce, a later retirement. In fact, as an investor, I consider longevity to be the biggest economic opportunity of the century.

And from a personal level, having an extended healthy lifespan, which I can use to continue my work in longevity and to spend with my beautiful family of 4 kids – is the best gift of all.