What’s next for the longevity business?

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Investors like Larry Ellison, Jeff Bezos, and Peter Thiel have spent billions to live longer. The appeal is clear: more time to devote to loved ones, to achieve goals and to live new experiences.

But the prospect of extending life also raises a host of thorny societal, economic and philosophical questions. And while there is general acceptance of some fundamentals, like the importance of exercise and not smoking, there is still a debate about how long a lifespan can be extended and how exactly to do it. to extend them.

David Sinclair, a Harvard biologist, has been studying aging and how to slow it down for over a decade. He is also the founder of at least 12 biotech start-ups and sits on the boards of several others.

DealBook spoke with Dr. Sinclair at an event last week on the business and science of extending life, using insightful questions from our readers. Here are some of the key takeaways from the conference.

Longevity research would work differently if aging were classified as a disease by the Food and Drug Administration. Since aging is not considered a disease – because it is natural and affects all humans – the FDA does not have a regulatory process to approve a drug for it. It also means that there is less regulation around various supplements and treatments that claim to fight aging. “I would like the FDA to declare this to be a disease, and start treating it, and when we do, we’ll have much bigger health gains,” Dr. Sinclair said.

In the absence of a clear regulatory path, drug developers have focused their efforts on treating diseases associated with aging, such as glaucoma. For example, Unity Biotechnology, a publicly traded biotechnology company specializing in these diseases, last week reported positive data from a safety study on a new drug for the treatment of advanced vascular eye diseases. The same company suffered a major setback last year when its knee osteoarthritis drug failed in a trial to show improvements over a placebo.

Living longer could have broad economic benefits, but there could be other costs. Dr Sinclair was the co-author of a report earlier this year claiming that the increase in average lifespan in the United States by a decade could create an economic value of around $ 360 trillion, representing both money saved in categories such as health care and additional expenses for people who live healthier longer. (The average lifespan last year was around 77 years, a low of almost two decades, mainly due to deaths linked to Covid 19.)

Living longer and in better health could arguably inject money into the economy. But there are other costs, like pressure on the planet. “If there were more humans on the planet, there will always be more stress you place on the environment,” said Dr Sinclair, although he believes a drop in fertility could compensate. some increase in service life. He highlighted innovations in areas such as clean energy as possible countermeasures to the climate burden of a higher population.

And what about the personal costs of longevity – with so many Americans already struggling to save for retirement? Retirement wealth has accumulated almost exclusively among high-income households, while middle- and low-income households have remained stable or lost ground. Dr Sinclair has argued that money “that is currently wasted on medical care” can be used for “a whole lot of things”, citing retraining, social security, among other programs.

But living longer would probably still mean working longer. “The only thing I don’t think will happen is that we will be able to retire at the same age,” said Dr Sinclair.

We are on the “first flight step” of longevity research, according to Dr. Sinclair. Critics of longevity research argue that the millions that investors have invested in longevity are focused on enriching only the rich, and that the money would be better spent on more immediate problems. Dr Sinclair, however, compared longevity research to early work in industries like air travel, which were originally funded and offered primarily to the wealthy. “The people who invest in this are the rich – they have to be,” Dr. Sinclair said of longevity research. “This is how capitalism works and it has worked well.”

Its goal, he says, is to “democratize” longevity drugs, education and knowledge. As for the role of an academic in the field of longevity, he said, “it is now unusual at Harvard Medical School not to be involved in the industry in one way or another and there are a lot of entrepreneurs around me ”.


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