‘There will be a point where we solve aging – this decade is that moment in time’

XPRIZE founder Peter Diamandis on the biggest prize the world has ever seen – and why a successful outcome will mean we’ll all be winners.

On Wednesday, we reported on a new global competition announced at Global Healthspan Summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. XPRIZE Healthspan aims to incentivize the development and testing of therapeutics to improve healthy aging, and it comes with an enormous encouragement – $101 million in prize money. The winning team will need to successfully develops a therapeutic that restores muscle, cognition and immune function by 20 years in older adults, and be able to demonstrate the results in a treatment period of one year or less.

Longevity.Technology: Straight after the XPRIZE launch we were able to sit down with its founder Peter Diamandis and find out more about XPRIZE Healthspan’s evolution, how success will be measured and how he hopes it will break the mold in more ways than one.

Peter Diamandis on…

The time is now

I took a course on the biology of aging in medical school, and then, watching a television show on long-lived sea life – bowhead whales can live 200 years, Greenland sharks can live 500 years – and I remember thinking if they can live that long, why can’t humans? In the back of my mind, my answer was that it’s either software or hardware, and there is going to be a point where we solve that. I believe this decade is that moment in time where converging exponential technologies are going to enable us to understand why we age, how to slow it, how to stop it – and maybe even how to reverse it.

Finding funding

It’s been a journey of seven years since we started the conversation. It was harder to raise the money than I expected it to be; it was a case of: “OK, guys, you can’t take it with you! If there’s a fraction of a per cent chance that this is going to expand your healthspan by 20 years, why would you not fund it?”

And, luckily, Hevolution was there to help close the gap at the end.

The right cohort – and breaking the mold

We’re looking at an older cohort – 65-80 is the target range that a team has to build a cohort from to give their therapeutic to. Part of it is because we are trying to measure functional degradation and restore that function. The slope of the curve needs to be steep enough. Showing someone aged 40 back to 20 will be harder – can you really measure the difference? But going from 80 back to 60, or 75 back to 55, should be sufficiently distinguishable, we hope, that we can determine a winner.

We’re hoping to break the mold and open up the trade space; traditional trials are very restrictive and we wanted to open them up. We’ve published our guidelines and we’re asking the world for feedback, and in six months we’ll process that feedback and publish a final set of rules.

And the winner is…

If I had to guess what technology might win, I’d guess something in he epigenetic reprogramming, gene therapy and cellular medicine realms. While the winner is unlikely to be meditation, we’re not eliminating anything. The tools that geroscientists are gaining access to are exponential at a minimum. AI is chief among those tools today, but we’re going to see quantum chemistry and quantum computation in the second half of this decade and within the scope of this prize.

I think we’ll know in the next two years the scope of the number of teams, and in four or five years’ time, we’ll begin to know who the top candidates are.

XPRIZE legacy

Our legacy will be multi-fold; we want to raise global awareness and get people excited about this healthspan revolution, get them to really take care of themselves so they are in a sufficient state of health to intercept the breakthroughs that are coming – no-one wants to be the last person to die before the revolution comes!

In addition, regulatory changes will be part of the XPRIZE Healthspan legacy. The way we’ll be running trials and the attempts of teams around the world to win the prize will get regulators to see aging as a set of targets and bring additional capital to the marketplace, birthing many new companies.