Impetus – getting the longevity party started

Propelling longevity research towards maximum impact, the Longevity Impetus Grants have $26m in funding to award.

$26m worth of funding “towards basic research that could accelerate our understanding and control of human aging [1]” were announced yesterday under the new Longevity Impetus Grants initiative.

Longevity.Technology: It’s about time. Longevity, geroscience, aging biology, lifespan extension – call it what you will, but it’s all about having more time, and staying healthier for longer. However, while we want to slow down aging, we also want to speed up research, but funding applications, raising capital, regulation, clinical trials… these all take time and slow down the speed of progress.

Cometh the hour, cometh the Impetus. Propelling research forward with speedy grants that encourage bold thinking is an exciting development – we look forward to reading details of the accepted proposals in time.

Impetus Grants provides funding for scientists to start working on what they consider to be the most important problems in aging biology. The website stresses that research should be able to get moving, without being subject to the usual delays.

“Such work should not be held up by red tape,” explains the website. “We offer grants of up to $500k, with decisions made within 3 weeks. Our review process asks “what’s the potential for impact” rather than “could this go wrong”.” [2]

Impetus’ goal is to have a broad impact on the longevity field, by supporting projects that challenge assumptions, develop new tools and methodologies, discover new ways to reverse aging processes, and/or synthesise isolated manifestations of aging into a systemic perspective.

The Longevity Impetus Grants were conceived by Martin Borch Jensen, CSO of Gordian Biotechnology; the founding donor Juan Benet (Protocol Labs founder and FileCoin inventor) has been joined by angel investor and cryptocurrency expert James Fickel and Stellar founder Jed McCaleb, as well as other anonymous donors.

The project was brought to life by the first cohort from Borch Jensen’s Longevity Apprenticeship – Lada Nuzhna, Kush Sharma and Edmar Ferreira.

Borch Jensen tweeted: “Research support, both governmental and private, has been a boon to my own science career. With the Impetus Grants, we hope to complement large institutions like Calico and Altos. We want to hear all the best ideas from the community, and support as many as possible [3].”

Inspiration for the grants came from the COVID-19 Fast Grants, where the funding decisions were made in as little as two weeks, with successful grants leading to both discovery and better testing tools.

As Borch Jensen puts it: “If it’s feasible to fund science this way, shouldn’t we?”
In the funding announcement, Borch Jensen explains that speed was important for COVID-19 research, but longevity is also a pressing issue as the world is aging. The US will have more seniors than children in approximately 10 years and two-thirds of people 65+ suffer from multiple chronic diseases.

“Healthcare will collapse under this demographic pressure, but there’s increasingly robust evidence that aging biology CAN address multimorbidity, and thus represents our biggest lever on population health,” says Borch Jensen, “but translation of the basic research takes 10+ years to become therapies, so we need to fund more basic research NOW.”

“Note: ‘Longevity’ is a loaded term. The work we’ll fund is not for the few. It’s medicine aimed at treating multiple diseases at once. It’s enabling healthcare, rather than relying on sick care, by attacking the drivers of the diseases, pain, and frailty that afflict everyone.” [4]
The team are also planning to ensure they learn from every project by publishing a special issue of GeroScience to provide an opportunity to communicate both positive and negative results from funded studies.

Longevity.Technology reached out to Martin Borch Jensen, CSO of Gordian Biotechnology and architect of the Longevity Impetus Grants.

“There are two things we hope to accomplish with these grants,” he told us. “First, we want the grants to be an impetus for scientists to pursue the ideas they think could have the greatest impact. We’ll do this by supporting bold ideas sourced from the entire longevity research community, with a mindset of ‘what could go right’.

“Second, we hope that the grants will be an Impetus for funding research with a greater sense of urgency: Minimize paperwork, make decisions fast, don’t rely on free labor by scientists, and create incentives that allow important work to happen even if it won’t end up as a Nature paper.”

Applications for grants will open on 13 September 2021; applications will be reviewed by at least two reviewers with more than a decade of experience in aging research, and at least one reviewer who is a topic expert in the proposal. In addition, Impetus reviewers are under NDA to preserve confidentiality of any proposal they evaluate.

And it’s not death by committee, either; as the website explains, the attitude is very much “could this work?” rather than “could this fail?” – rather than a consensus among the review team, should at least one reviewer be strongly supportive of a proposed project, Impetus will be minded to fund it.

Impetus Grants are $10k-500k (with a maximum 10% overhead). Smaller requests will be favoured, so that a higher number of projects can be supported. However, there is no set project period and no strings attached.

STOP PRESS: Martin Borch Jensen has just announced (8 Sept 21 12:17 ET) that Vitalik Buterin has added 1500 Ethereum to the pot, swelling the grant fund available to $26 million – it’s a good day for longevity.

As Borch Jensen puts it: “We now have ~$26M to give away. It is a privilege to work with people who are invested in uplifting society by supporting scientific progress.”


Image courtesy of Martin Borch Jensen