Jim Mellon: Longevity could be the best investment you ever make

Juvenescence Chairman explains why investing in longevity has the potential to deliver significant financial, personal and humanitarian returns.

In a few short weeks, The Longevity Week returns, bringing with it a host of compelling events and conferences both in-person and online. Also returning is Master Investor’s one-day masterclass, Investing in the Age of Longevity, which provides investors with insight into the fundamentals of longevity science, where and how to invest, and the opportunity to meet the founders of investable longevity companies. Confirmed speakers already include BioAge CEO Kristen Fortney and Juvenescence CFO David Gill, as well as Fiona Miller of quadraScope Venture Fund, Dani Saurymper of Pacific Asset Management, and our very own editor in chief, Phil Newman.

Longevity.Technology: We are on the verge of a lifespan revolution – in the next 30 years, life expectancy is going to rise to between 110 and 120 and it’s time to get ahead of the challenges and capitalise on the opportunities. Longevity arguably presents the greatest investment opportunity of all time as aging affects everybody, everywhere. But don’t just take our word for it. We spoke to British billionaire Jim Mellon, Chairman of longevity biotech company Juvenescence, to find out why he believes the time is right to invest in longevity.

It’s safe to say that 2022 has been a significant year from a longevity investment perspective.

“Money coming into the sector has increased dramatically this year, starting with Jeff Bezos and the $3 billion investment in Altos,” says Mellon. “Then there was the establishment of Hevolution Foundation, which is going to be investing a billion dollars a year for the foreseeable future, and I think Calico’s capital has also increased by another $500 million. Those all represent significant amounts of money into a sector which, although promising, has been starved of capital.”

“We’ve seen lots of companies starting up in the last year, and a few new longevity funds also have started up – not huge ones, but still bringing reasonable amounts of money into the field. And there are more conferences, events, and news stories driving public interest in longevity, so from my point of view, I think we’re in a much better situation than we were a year ago.”

Investment banks taking notice

All of this investment is, says Mellon, drawing attention from a wider investor audience.

“Although the biotech sector has been one of the worst affected by the market drawdowns in the last 18 months, I’ve noticed that big investment banks are taking a real interest in following and supporting the idea that longevity is not just something of science fiction, but it’s something that has real world applications,” he says. “We recently had a ‘Juvenescence Day’ at Oxford University, and it was very well attended by serious analysts, investors and scientists. In fact, in terms of the calibre of the people, it was the best I’ve seen at a conference like that.”

While optimistic, Mellon is also realistic that the quest for longevity success is going to take some time.

“The wheels grind slowly in biotech, with a lot of failures attached,” he says. “I think you have to look at it as both a commercial return some time out in the future, probably around 10 years, which is a longer timeframe to return than investing in a social media app or something along those lines.”

“But 10 years is typically less than one eighth of your lifespan, so it’s not an insurmountable thing to invest a modest amount of your money in something related to longevity, or a spread of investments related to longevity, in order to reap potentially substantial personal and financial rewards over a longer period.”

Can longevity produce the next Biohaven?

Of course, stresses Mellon, it’s also quite possible for a longevity investment to deliver returns in less than 10 years. To illustrate the point, he cites the biggest pharma M&A deal of the year – the sale of Biohaven Pharmaceutical to Pfizer for more than $11 billion. Along with Greg Bailey and Declan Doogan, Mellon was an early investor in Biohaven.

“Eight years ago, we set the company up with $3 million, and it went from having no drugs to having the best-selling migraine drug in the US in a very short space of time,” he says. “I expect that there will be drugs developed in the longevity field, although perhaps not directly for longevity applications, which will do even better than that. And we’ll hear about them in the next five years. It could well be that some companies will make absolute fortunes from what they’re working on today.”

But, says Mellon, investors must also weigh the potential successes against the potential failures.

“We’ve had disappointments in areas that we had high hopes for – rapalogs and senolytics, for example,” he says. “Now this doesn’t mean that rapalogs and senolytics are dead, it just means that the trials weren’t done properly or had bad luck. Those failures put a dent in the sector for a while, but I think it’s bouncing back rapidly.”

So, what message does Mellon want to send to investors considering putting their money into longevity?

“I think that you must recognise this is an industry that’s roughly equivalent to the dial-up phase of the internet, and that there are many perils involved in investing, particularly in single shot companies – so diversify your investment,” he says. “At Juvenescence we’ve got 21 projects, and we hope that two or three of them will work, in which case there is great commercial viability.”

“Investors should also recognise, especially if you’re in your 30s or 40s, that investing in longevity might not just be the magic bullet for your finances, but also the magic bullet for humankind. In fact, it could be the ultimate ESG investment because if you back the right company in this industry, you’re also doing fantastic things for humanity.”

Juvenescence IPO in 2023?

With many across the field eager to know when Juvenescence might make its long-awaited debut on the public markets, Mellon explains that conditions weren’t right this year. 

“We thought a few months ago that we were going to be going public but thank God we didn’t because the market clouded over,” he says. “Some of the companies that have gone public that are loosely related to longevity have been pummelled by the market. Most of these stocks are down 80, 90 percent, maybe even more. So, it’s better that we didn’t go public, and that we can do so at a more appropriate time, which is, I hope, not too far off. I would expect to be public by the end of next year.”

Mellon says a “very substantial” amount is being raised for the company’s pre-IPO round, which he says will take place the next few months.

“We’ve got large investment banks working with us and things are looking good. The company we founded before Juvenescence [Biohaven] has just been sold for a very large amount of money, and we see no reason why we can’t do even better with Juvenescence.”

Success in longevity says Mellon, is going to require “an incremental and multi-pronged approach.”

“There’s a lot of great stuff happening, but it’s not one drug that’s going to keep you alive another 10 years in good health, it’s going to be a combination of therapies,” he adds. “And if we can get two or three of those therapies out of clinical trials and into the market, then we’re going to have a very big business indeed and we’re pretty confident we’re going to get there.”

But, with so many potential “prongs” to consider in a multi-pronged approach, what areas is he most enthusiastic about?

“The reversion of cells to a youthful state is something I find particularly exciting,” he says. “I think the organ work being done at companies like LyGenesis is very interesting. And, even though people think of supplements as being a non-scientific business, we’ve got some exciting stuff coming down the pike, including longevity lipids, which I can’t be more specific about at this time, but we think will be transformational. And then, of course, there’s SynBio, which is something we’re working actively in – creating novel compounds and therapies using synthetic biology.”

Longevity Biotech Association progress

Mellon is also one of the founding members of the Longevity Biotechnology Association, which was first unveiled at last year’s Investing in the Age of Longevity event. The organisation has moved on in leaps and bounds since then, now boasting more than 20 members from across the field of longevity biotech research and development.

Jim Mellon announces the LBA - Longevity Biotechnology Association
Mellon announces the launch of the Longevity Biotech Association in 2021

“It’s an organisation that was needed and is going to make a real difference to our field,” says Mellon. “We meet regularly, and we are preparing a series of commercially neutral white papers on subjects of interest to people in the longevity field. We’re working to set the standards for the industry to ensure that the charlatans and snake oil salespeople will be identified and kept outside the circle. And then we’ll work to promote the industry in a way that encourages youngsters, entrepreneurs, and governments to take it seriously.”

“That being said, of course, the FDA has still not recognised aging as a disease or as a condition, and that may be a long road to travel, but the development of biological clocks, biomarkers, and the rapid improvement in consumer-facing products with longevity applications, is really encouraging.”

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