Longevity hub to link academia, investors and industry

New Entrepreneur in Residence at ARK aging research institute speaks about the creation of a “longevity Silicon Valley”.

When we spoke last year with Dr Richard Siow, director of Ageing Research at King’s (ARK), he highlighted one of the key challenges facing AI as the need to find a “standard way of measuring or reporting data in a way that is beneficial to society as a whole.”

Longevity.Technology: From its base at King’s College London, ARK is a cross-faculty, multidisciplinary consortium of global researchers and innovators working on aging and longevity, and the role that AI can play is a significant focus of its work. The group recently appointed Svitlana Surodina, CEO of digital innovation consultancy Skein as its Entrepreneur in Residence, and we caught up with her recently to learn more about the role.

A serial technology entrepreneur, Surodina’s primary focus over the past 10 years has been the development of AI solutions for industry challenges.

“At Skein we usually bring together an industry partner, who understands the commercial context of a challenge, and an academic partner, a university for example, who has researched the topic of interest from a scientific standpoint,” she says. “And then our role is to leverage our AI and software development capabilities to build a solution around that problem.”

With an increasing focus in recent years on building health and longevity-specific solutions, Surodina observed that there was a consistent area that presented a challenge – access to data.

“It’s a real challenge for a researcher or industry innovator to get access to quality, relevant, timely data.”

“And also, very importantly, access to non-biased data. A lot of data sets that are available online are collected on a subset of the population, so when you train a model on that subset, you unconsciously create an algorithm that is heavily biased towards that sub-population and excludes everyone else.”

In longevity, Surodina feels that the data challenge is key, because the sector touches on so many different aspects of society.

“Longevity is not only about how do we live longer, you’re also encompassing things like, how do we live healthier, how does our environment play a role, and how do we afford to live longer – and things like financial longevity.”

Surodina also links the lack of good data to challenges that early stage longevity ventures have from an investment perspective.

“It’s really hard to attract investment from venture capital firms, for example, because it’s very challenging to value early stage research.”

“There’s real demand from investors for instruments that can help them select, evaluate, and put a price on those pre-commercialisation longevity companies or research projects. With the right marketplace and ecosystem in place, we can help this to develop.”

A desire to solve these challenges is what brought Surodina together with Siow and her new role at ARK.

“I really liked Richard’s idea of creating a longevity Silicon Valley, driven by a multidisciplinary, industry focused organisation that will build up an ecosystem and focus on commercial projects and bringing in industry,” Surodina recalls.

“Our ambition at ARK is not only to deliver breakthroughs in aging and longevity R&D, but also to develop an ecosystem for commercialising this innovation where it will benefit the end consumer – at all stages and contexts of life from supermarkets to workplaces,” Siow told us. “To achieve this we need to encourage entrepreneurship and leverage advanced tools for insights based on diverse data flows, technological infrastructures and commercial perspective.”

“Svitlana’s expertise in these areas is instrumental to facilitate the vision of ARK and deliver on these goals.”

In her new role at ARK, Surodina aims to facilitate commercial projects involving academia and industry, broadly around longevity-related issues, from health to economics.

“There’s an opportunity to create a unique ecosystem, supported by technology, that would leverage data flows and financial information, and bring it all together to create a marketplace for exchanging data,” she says. “This would support financial investment, engaging not only private equity, but also individuals, as investors.”

But building the longevity Silicon Valley won’t happen overnight, and Surodina is aiming to get the ball rolling by initiating some key commercial projects.

“We’d like to start by linking some research projects with investors or start-ups, and creating a pipeline of those projects over the next year,” she says. “And we want to create these links in a structured, scalable way. It’s not only about making introductions, but also about helping those organisations come together and create new products more easily. And, coming back to the challenges of data, it’s about helping them to structure their data flows, get access to data and leverage that for the marketplace.”

Interested in finding out more about the ARK project? Get in touch with Svitlana Surodina at svitlana.surodina@kcl.ac.uk