David Gobel is an inventor, philanthropist, futurist, and passionate rejuvenation advocate and supporter; he’s known for co-founding Methuselah Foundation with Dr. Aubrey de Grey and for proposing the intriguing concept of “longevity escape velocity”, but his achievements and successes extend far beyond that. David has kindly granted LEAF a most interesting and detailed interview.
If you’re not familiar with the Methuselah Foundation, it is possibly the oldest organization active in the field of rejuvenation advocacy and support; it also works as an incubator for startups working in rejuvenation research and has helped kickstart many of the projects we talk so much about on our website.
We hope you enjoy Dave’s replies as much as we did!
David, you’re well-known in the life extension community for being the co-founder of the Methuselah Foundation. Nonetheless, you have been involved in several different ventures and projects, not all of which involve life extension. Can you briefly discuss your career?
I am fortunate to have experienced much as an entrepreneur. From selling candles off the back of my motorcycle when I was a teen to working with IBM, my entrepreneurial bent has taught me a lot at every turn. I became a serial entrepreneur by creating several software companies. To give you a couple of examples, in 1991, I co-founded Knowledge Adventure. There, we created non-linear video, in which the movement of the user’s mouse would link non-linearly to a database of video frames. This resulted in us producing six best-selling multimedia titles, including 3D Body Adventure.
In 1995, I partnered with Steven Spielberg, Intel, Sprint, and Tandem Computers to design and create Starbright World, a broadband network that allows sick children at home and in over 110 children’s hospitals to “go out and play” in a rich virtual world where they can communicate with friends and family.
After 9/11, I felt compelled to help improve public security and safety, so in 2002, I joined TSA and eventually became the Chief Venture Strategist in the Office of Security Operations. There, I spearheaded the development of the Department of Homeland Security’s first venture capital capability. In that capacity, I also conceived IdeaFactory, which was adopted by DHS and which won the Secretary of DHS’s Team Innovation Award.
How did your involvement in life extension begin; did you realize the problem of aging yourself, or were you introduced to it by someone else?
It started because of my awareness that the healthcare system was broken, like the growth of an unplanned city that has no rhyme or reason. Our healthcare system reacts to system failures rather than preventing them, because that is more lucrative. The incentives push science in poor directions, and then these become inferior technologies and treatments. I came to the conclusion that we need a system reset. After much research and reflection, it became my conviction that this reset should be to delay and reverse aging and rejuvenate robust health. I believe this will result in reduced suffering and the greatest opportunity for individual and civilizational growth.
You co-founded Methuselah Foundation in 2001 with Dr. Aubrey de Grey. Can you tell us about how the idea was born and how the Foundation has grown and evolved over the years?
I founded the charity in 2001. When Aubrey and I began collaborating, I suggested the new name, and then we went with that in 2003. Rather than tell a story, we’ll link to our newly minted history of the Foundation. Of course, we are a moving target and will be announcing several new initiatives this year.
Methuselah Foundation has given millions of dollars to regenerative medicine research, backing ventures such as Organovo, Oisin Biotechnologies, and SENS Research Foundation. Would you like to tell us about some of the results that these companies have obtained thanks to your charity?
Well, Organovo invented and is now selling high-fidelity 3D human liver and kidney tissues to the research market, is providing CRO services, and is on track to deliver a 3D liver patch to the clinic in two years.
Another portfolio alumnus, Silverstone Matchgrid, has saved the lives of over 1,000 people due to our investment in its paired kidney donation software. This software is now used in over 35 hospitals in the U.S., Europe, and soon, Saudi Arabia.
I don’t think I need to say anything about SENS Foundation – it is fantastic, and we at Methuselah Foundation couldn’t be prouder of its success and contributions.
We have very high expectations for Oisin Bio and OncoSenX. We anticipate that it will be in Phase 1 safety trials by mid-2019. We hope to provide it to some patients much sooner than previously possible, as the FDA is liberalizing treatment availability via the recently passed “Right to Try” legislation.
Leucadia Therapeutics is a startup focused on defeating Alzheimer’s disease. This is progressing and promising. We hope to have major news later this year. The research community is realizing that the newly discovered brain clearance structures are perhaps key elements to fix, which is what Leucadia has been advancing since 2015.
Rather than go on, I’d like to say that we at Methuselah Foundation tend to be modest about proclaiming our successes. We prefer that the companies and scientists behind them get famous. For us, we focus on “Return on Mission”: how many people have not suffered; how many people have not died; and how much peace and happiness has been enjoyed because of our donors, stakeholders, non-profits, and new companies started. We absolutely expect to have failures; if we don’t, we’re not trying hard enough. Thankfully, so far, our strategies are working well.
A rather impressive name among your partners is NASA; in 2016, the American space agency launched the Vascular Tissue Challenge alongside your organization. Can you say some things about this particular project, Methuselah Foundation’s involvement in it, and how it has been progressing?
Methuselah Foundation, via its NewOrgan Alliance initiative, has been responsible for attracting the current 13 world-class competitors. We have held 3 conferences to promote the prize in collaboration with NASA and NASA Ames Laboratory. The prize expires at the end of 2019, but we believe that the prize will be won before that, based on the competitors and their progress. Once the solution to the vascularity limit is achieved, 3D engineered human tissues can really take off!
SENS Research Foundation spun off from Methuselah Foundation in 2009; however, SENS was initially a part of Methuselah’s research program. Why was it decided to separate them into two organizations?
Aubrey has an amazing mind for the details of biology, and it was his desire to exploit this growing body of knowledge to pursue his SENS initiative. I, on the other hand, have expertise in getting the “impossible” off the ground and into the sky without it blowing up. He wanted to do lab work which would require vast capital, and I wanted to start companies that could bring products to market/clinic, go public, and recycle the funds back into the mission. With his pharma experience, Mike Kope made it possible for both Aubrey and myself to play to our unique strengths while keeping in sync. This has allowed us to independently drive the mission, likely faster than could otherwise have been possible.
The timeline of MFoundation’s achievements is frankly impressive. One of the latest was the launching of the Methuselah Fund in early 2017, an LLC subsidiary of your charity. Can you tell us about it and how its mission differs from that of Methuselah Foundation?
The Methuselah Fund, or M Fund, is designed to give donors a chance to get a return on equity now that the longevity field is maturing. Many of our donors have been faithfully donating for years, and now that opportunities are emerging, we wanted to give them the first opportunity to invest.
We are delighted to announce that we just successfully closed the M Fund’s Founder’s Round. We now have four companies in our portfolio and have been looking at helping form some promising new ventures. We are particularly proud to say that every single one of our members is a mission-driven individual who wants, more than anything, to see an end to the aging problem.
Lastly, we will be announcing several new company start-ups over the next few weeks, so stay tuned.
Does Methuselah Foundation engage in advocacy and educational activities alongside financing research?
The Methuselah Foundation has created Public Service Announcements to educate the public on the importance of having conversations about aging as a disease and its implications for society. We did a total of five videos, and these aired on Hulu and YouTube.
We believe that our Methuselah Mouse Prize went a long way toward proving that the pursuit of longevity is a legitimate science goal in the biogerontology community. We are decidedly and committedly apolitical. We simply believe that healthy life is good and that more of it is better.
Our form of advocacy is to prove that healthy life extension is scientifically inevitable. Our goal is to deliver solutions to the clinic. We do this with prizes, grants and company formation.
Can you tell us something about the future projects or activities that MFoundation is planning to start?
We have many projects that we are shepherding, but some are not ready to be publicized. We look forward to telling you about them in the upcoming weeks!
The 300 is your charity’s way of honoring a group of early supporters who forwarded the cause of healthy life extension in the face of the public ridicule that, in the early 2000s, was standard for anyone advocating for the defeat of aging. Unfortunately, even today, although the topic has gained significant acceptance among experts, the idea of defeating aging is still often met with ridicule, indifference and, at times, opposition that borders on religious fervor. Why do you think this happens, and how can we change it?
We fervently believe in everyone’s right to express themselves for or against the view of aging as a disease. We recognize the ethical issues that scare or intimidate many individuals who see living longer as a societal problem. We understand that not everyone will want to live significantly longer and that some people would purposely live lives that age their bodies prematurely. We don’t aim to change those feelings, but we aim to inspire tolerance among different opinions.
Science and technology have improved our standards of living, so we can all have choices that we can take or leave. For example, we can go to our fridges and decide to eat chicken, steak, or vegetables in a given meal, knowing that the ingredients not used will be safe to eat another day. Just about 150 years ago, humans did not have that luxury. As a species, we thrive on having options and enhancing our access to novelty. Also, thanks to refrigeration, we are able to diet in numerous ways that make us healthier individuals. We could even say that we are living longer because we can plan our meals now. However, very few individuals would have strong feelings against the invention of refrigerators.
The mainstream view of aging as an engineering problem and not a natural one will change as the view of other vilified industries changed with time. For example, it was once the mainstream view that flying was best left to the birds. The thought was, “If God wanted us to fly, he would have given us wings.” What we say is, “If God wanted us to fly, he would have given us imagination (which of course, we have).” Clearly, flying was engineered, and so can longevity.
You were the first to put forward the concept of longevity escape velocity, or LEV. How far are we from LEV, assuming the current pace of research and no serious showstoppers?
I anticipate that within 3 years, some interventions will be available via safety trials and that people who are treated will receive benefits that put them on a path toward LEV. I believe things will accelerate from there, as vastly more attention is triggered by early advances. We are seeing the first glimmers of this already.
Editorial note: The response to this question about LEV has been clarified in response to comments from David on Fight Aging.
MFoundation’s motto—”Making 90 the new 50, by 2030″—is not as bold as the concept of LEV, which many people are very skeptical about. Then again, 2030 is only 12 years away, so your motto might also appear too bold. Are you still confident that the industry will meet this deadline?
Yes, as long as the early companies get sufficient funding so that they can be accessible to the public without being diverted from the mission. The science is there, so this issue is about meeting necessary funding and regulation. The ability to meet this goal is real, so we are working on all elements of the problem that we can.
Other than not dying of aging, do you have a special dream that may only come true if significant life extension is achieved?
At the age of 65, we are still children. I believe that every 10 years of life can produce a profoundly different and improved person if the host body is kept youthful. The danger is that once we return to youth while drenched with knowledge and experience, we will either become diabolically clever or productively wise. I hope to continue to grow toward greater productive wisdom and joy from regaining youth.
You’re also a futurist. Staying in the realm of speculation, how do you imagine the world might be in 50 years? Worst and best case scenarios.
Many of your readers are no doubt familiar with Kurzweil’s concept of the technological singularity. I make the argument that, as in physics, nothing entering the event horizon of a singularity survives the experience. It gets shredded to oblivion. We have already entered a socio-economic event horizon of similar magnitude to the one which started in 1453-5 with the invention of the printing press and the fall of the Byzantine, Holy Roman, and Catholic empires. Printing led to modest changes in its first 50 years but then absolutely exploded into the Renaissance and discovery of the New World(s). This was followed by the Reformation, which shredded the entire social and governmental fabric of the Western world. This phenomenon is happening again right now.
There is no word to describe these conditions, so I had to give it a name: Simulflation. Simulflation is the simultaneous implosion and explosion of a technologically-driven phase, and these changes are similar to the collapse and inflation of a star undergoing exhaustion of its fuel. As it collapses, a new element begins to burn.
We are experiencing technologically-driven “simulflation”, a situation similar to that of the period between 1910 and 1929, when technological innovations continuously accelerated capital investments in innovations to the point of bubbles, generating huge technological advances, cost reductions, and creative destruction. Now, Moore’s, Metcalf’s and other power laws (genomics) are collapsing industries, trade, and commerce barriers. This is leading to repetitive destruction of pricing power, resulting in deflationary labor costs. This is the highest component of business costs, which feeds back into further gravitational implosion via automation. Coincident with accelerating destructive deflation, currencies have been decoupled from commodity constraints (gold), so governments have no limit on how much money they can print. There is huge inflation in money creation, with said money being driven to invest in paper and digital (crypto) assets. This further accelerates the cost-push inflation. Deflation and inflation at the same time, simulflation, ultimately results from tidal/gravitational exhaustion and collapse of the reigning global socioeconomic system.
According to Martin Armstrong, in 1900, about 40% of the US civilian workforce was employed in agriculture. By the late 1920s, the economy had changed remarkably. There were exceptional gains in productivity due to electrification, which increased production of goods, and the combustion engine, which profoundly altered agricultural production. Previously, up to 25% of agricultural land had been used to feed horses and mules. With tractors replacing horses and mules, this land suddenly became available. The ability to produce food soared and exceeded market demand, creating overproduction and underconsumption. This Great Depression led straight to WWII. A supernova, if you will.
We are on the cusp of a new, even more powerful, event horizon. To answer your question, the next 50 years will either usher in a world of untold plenty and growing good will, or we will personally encounter the great filter of the Fermi Paradox. We will either suffer the fate of the Krell (Forbidden Planet), or we will learn to become Good in a profound sense. Because of the exponentially growing power of humans, there will be no middle ground. So, I am pleased that so many folks who support our work are doing so because it is good and not primarily for financial gain.
If you could tell everyone in the world one thing to remember for the rest of their lives, what would that be?
The concept of money is a mass psychosis that prevents us from being who we are and who we can become. It exists because we don’t trust each other – and perhaps don’t trust ourselves. We simply must transcend this. We must learn the meaning of satisfaction and appreciation and goodness without needing the “dog treats” we call money. Until we internalize this, longer life will not lead to happiness.
A big thank you to David for his thoughtful insights. His enthusiasm and optimism are contagious, and we certainly hope he’s correct in his prediction that the beginning of LEV might be only twelve years away. Without people with his dedication to the cause, the science of rejuvenation wouldn’t have progressed as far as it has.