Longevity pioneers explain why the field needs to expand, encourage participation and focus on translation.
Longevity will be one of the largest, if not the largest, investment opportunity in the decades to come; the Longevity Investors Conference targets the global investor community and brings a whole range of institutional investors together with top class and longevity-experienced speakers to explore relevant insights into the field, expert education and investment opportunities, not to mention excellent networking possibilities.
Longevity.Technology: The conference takes place later this month in Gstadt, Switzerland, and boasts a speaker list full of longevity heavyweights. Using a special all access pass, we were able to corner a few of them and take the opportunity to ask some of our burning longevity questions, so stay tuned as today, Thursday and Friday we find out the thoughts of some of the keenest minds in longevity.
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Longevity research and the development of therapies that extend lifespan and healthspan are accelerating, but sensible investment is about seeing all sides of the story. With that in mind, we asked our longevity hive mind what they feel are the areas of the field of longevity that hold potential for the biggest improvement.
Dr Brenner is the developer of the intellectual property behind ChromaDex’s Tru Niagen. He told us that the longevity field really needs to come to terms with what it is trying to do and what it is promising investors and the general public.
“The most powerful longevity genes found in organisms from worms to rodents encode molecules in the pathway of growth hormone activity: loss of function of these genes extends lifespan but the mutants are small, infertile and cannot compete for food or survive in the wild,” he explains.
“The general public is so unaware of this that antiaging clinics sell people injections of growth hormone, which will almost certainly shorten human lifespan.”
Human lifespan and healthspan have been very substantially increased in the last century by public health measures, and Brenner feels that broad application of these measures and healthy lifestyle would do much to reduce health disparities and extend healthspan, but he cautions that that does not a typical tech startup make.
“It remains to be determined whether there is a valid molecular target that would allow extension of a healthy person’s lifespan, and it remains a major challenge to imagine how one would conduct a clinical test of such an intervention,” he says. “In my opinion, the ability to heal from mild injuries is a functionally scorable outcome that can be shown to decline in aging and could be expected to be improved by a molecule active in this space.”
Brenner adds that he doesn’t find it interesting to, for example, perform interventions that target epigenetics and then to score them for how they affect biomarkers that are fundamentally epigenetic; indeed, he feels that to so would be to enter a tautological space that does not advance the field.
“In brief, I want to see an improvement in functional measurements in diseased populations or those who are simply aging.”
Aubrey de Grey
Dr de Grey is one of longevity’s most clarion voices. Co-Founder of SENS Research Foundation, de Grey has just announced his new research foundation.
De Grey feels that the field of longevity is moving so quickly at the moment, that his views on current challenges will most likely be out-of-date within a year, but he does feel there are areas that warrant attention.
“At this point I think the main limitation is the talent that makes teams complete – makes them tick all the boxes for an investor,” he says.
“There are still far too many great ideas out there in the hands of academics who are just not natural entrepreneurs, so I spend a lot of my time finding people with a business background to partner with them.”
Another area of concern for de Grey is the number of top-flight young scientists choosing longevity as a field and joining labs or startups where they can make a difference – there just aren’t enough of them; this is something de Grey is working to change.
“I’ve been highly active in both these areas in the past year, enabling a big expansion of the education program at the Buck Institute and also inspiring and funding the incredible retreat LessDeath a month or two ago, and they will continue to be high priorities for me,” he told us.
Amy B Killen
A former ER doctor, Dr Killen is an antiaging and regenerative medicine physician who specialises in aesthetics and sexual medicine.
She told us she is very excited by the research that is finally being done on ovarian aging.
“There is now hope that we’ll eventually be able to delay, or even completely obliterate, menopause and all of the harmful hormonal changes that comes with it,” Killen explains.
“In the past, research was done that looked at how to maintain fertility for longer periods of time, but few people talked about the detrimental hormonal changes that happen when the follicles within the ovaries run out at around age fifty,” says Killen, citing institutions such as the Buck Institute, as well as private companies, that are finally allocating money and attention to ovarian aging.
“I’m hopeful that we’ll see real progress in this field of study in the coming years,” Killen told us.
Dr Fortney is CEO of BioAge, a biotech on a mission to develop a pipeline of therapeutic assets that increase healthspan and lifespan.
Dr Fortney told us that over the past 30 years, a great deal has been learned about what drives aging in laboratory animals, but comparatively little about the pathways underlying healthy longevity in human beings.
“We need to devote more attention to understanding the unique biological features of human longevity — so instead of hoping that a few mechanisms identified in mice will be conserved in humans, we can focus therapeutic development on mechanisms that we know are relevant to our own aging process,” she says.
“In short,the field needs to focus on identifying the most translational aspects of longevity science and moving that knowledge rapidly into the clinic, where it can help patients.”
Martin Borch Jensen
Dr Martin Borch Jensen is the CSO of Gordian Biotechnology and the force behind the the successful Impetus Grants.
He told us that the longevity field needs validating ways to measure processes of aging and to predict future morbidity and mortality.
“Having such biomarkers would speed up both research and clinical trials, because we wouldn’t have to wait for aging to progress,” he explains. “There are a lot of things being measured, but we need rigorous validation of whether they predict the physiological outcomes to which they purport.”
As Director of the Centre for Healthy Longevity at the National University of Singapore, Dr Brian Kennedy is committed to translating research discoveries into new ways of delaying, detecting, preventing and treating human aging and associated age-related diseases.
Kennedy feels the longevity field needs expansion, so that many different kinds of expertise can be used together to tackle aging.
“We can now intermingle standard genetics, molecular and cellular biology with AI, clinical expertise in a variety of different areas (not just geriatrics), pharma knowledge, investors and the educated public,” he explains. “This will open the range of questions that will be asked and hopefully get more meaningful answers as we try to extend healthspan and lifespan.”
Dr Nir Barzilai, Director of The Institute of Aging Research at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, is a key player in gerontology science and the longevity space.
For Barzilai, the key challenges for longevity lie in three areas.
First up is translation. “The translational arm is crucial to have to proof of the concept that gerotherapeutics have real effects on geriatric syndromes,” Barzilai explains adding that the second challenge is standardisation and citing the Longevity Biotech Association, which, he says, needs to play a key role in standardising the industry, in areas such as measuring biomarkers.
In addition, Barzilai says education is key. “The establishment of the Healthy Longevity Medicine Society will start educating physicians about the promise and practice of longevity medicine,” he says.