“Adding another 20-to-30 years to the average lifespan”

Interview with Tristan Edwards, Co-founder, President and CIO, Life Biosciences.

Tristan Edwards is an investment professional and Co-founder, President and Chief Investment Officer of Life Biosciences. This US biotech start-up is researching potential treatments to improve human healthspan. He tells us about investing in the Longevity space, the uniqueness of his team, why he keeps an image of the Wright brothers on the Life Biosciences’ office wall, and why he believes the Longevity industry is set to soar.

How far along is Longevity in becoming a defined category for investors? Put it on a scale of 0-10 for us. If Fintech has developed to a nine or a ten, where would you score Longevity?
From an investment perspective I would say it’s a one or a two. But I believe that will change very quickly. I think the scale will go from a two to an eight in the next four to five years. Like the Internet of Things, or Artificial Intelligence before it, in the next few years I can’t imagine a single person on the planet not being aware of the ability to extend lifespan and healthspan, both as an industry and as a benefit to humankind.

So, a major shift in our thinking is on the way?
In 1903, the Wright brothers defied expectation and took their first flight. We have the photo of this on our office wall, to remind us of who we are. The idea of humans being able to fly back then was crazy; most people were saying it couldn’t be done. Yet after they left the earth’s gravity, it didn’t take mankind years to accept it. We immediately forgot that it was crazy. All we needed was proof that it could be done, and we never looked back. That’s exactly where we are with Longevity sciences.

Longevity research has been evolving as a legitimate science for many years. But I think we are at the cusp of dramatic change.  We’ll see more and more bright young minds focusing on Longevity, and we will soon treat aging.

Eventually, we’re talking about adding another 20 – 30 years to the average lifespan with none of the diseases of aging: Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, Type 2 diabetes, etc. In other words, not only expanding lifespan but what we call “healthspan,” the period during which the individual can live a healthy, productive life.

Would you say there are any innovations in your portfolio at Life Biosciences that you’re particularly excited about?
Everything is incredibly exciting. We are focusing on healthspan because living longer doesn’t mean anything if we don’t live better at the same time. One thing that really excites me is the ability to reprogram cells so they can behave like they used to.  If you think about a CD, all the information is encoded on the disk;  if it’s scratched the information is not damaged or lost.  Fix the scratches and you can read the information again. Your genome is the same. As you age it accumulates damage, it reads the information incorrectly and it starts to break down. We are starting to reverse this in animals; in the future there’s potential to revert our cells to “read” their DNA as though they were young again.

“… we are at the cusp of dramatic change. We’ll see more and more bright young minds focusing on Longevity, and we will soon treat aging … we’re talking about adding another 20 – 30 years to the average lifespan with none of the diseases of aging.”

Does all this development mean big institutional investors will soon be paying attention?
Plenty already are. The science, however, has to build to a point where the rounds are large enough for them to get involved. Once you start raising $100m to $200m rounds, they’ll start paying real attention and investing. The rounds must be large enough for the mandates to allow and value checks must be in place in new areas; this can be tough to do.
As the science progresses, we see the investment interest ramping up, with bigger contributors stepping in.  A lot also depends on how quickly some institutions learn to adapt.

By “adapt” I mean simply this: There’s a long-held understanding that Big Pharma relies on illness for profits.  But if they reframe their mission as being in the healthspan business, then the Longevity revolution is valuable for them.  It’s my hope that Pharma embraces this change as a wonderful and necessary way for them to evolve their business in a much more effective way.

Is there a role for governments here? What if the FDA classified aging as a disease?
The FDA classifying aging as a “disease” or a condition would be a game-changer. It would make Longevity drugs a category for FDA approval, and make those drugs reimbursable.  Currently only drugs for a specific disease indication can apply for FDA approval.  This gets back to a misguided focus on illness versus healthspan.

The World Health Organisation already has argued for aging to be considered a disease, and others should soon follow suit. The Lancet has pushed for it. It’s absurd that we don’t consider aging a disease; maybe it is related to ageism or age bias.

A close family member of mine went to the doctor last year with a complaint, not a major one, and the doctor’s response was to say, “Look, you’re in your 70s, you’re growing old, this is just going to happen.” Can you imagine if they’d been twenty or even ten years younger? That kind of response would have been unacceptable! What we’re working for is a time when aging happens in a way that doesn’t promote age-related disease, that it should be a healthier and more productive experience.

Dr Mehmood Khan recently joined you at Life Biosciences as your new CEO, what do you think has appealed to Dr Khan about your company
Mehmood is a senior business executive who is a physician scientist at heart.  He loves what we are doing. He’s had a very successful career at PepsiCo and Takeda and has a proven track record of bringing complex science to the market. He could have gone anywhere he wanted to, but chose the ability to impact the world.

He wants to help mankind, and he recognises the enormous healthcare costs related to aging that could be reinvested to solve so many of the world’s problems.  For me it’s exciting for two reasons: it validates the broader Longevity field, and it validates our company within the field.