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Dylan Livingston: Increasing Healthy Lifespan Is Bipartisan

A4LI includes Democrats and Republicans working together to promote longevity.

Dylan Livingston InterviewDylan Livingston Interview
 

Dylan Livingston is the founder and president of A4LI – the Alliance for Longevity Initiatives. This newly created organization aims to fill an important niche as a non-profit that would educate American politicians on life extension and promote policy changes beneficial for our cause. How can this be done, especially in the current age of partisanship? Dylan thinks he has the recipe.

You have an interesting background. How did you find yourself in the longevity field?

It started with my father. He’s been an investor in early-stage futuristic tech for three decades now. It was something that I grew up with. He would always bring me along to different labs or centers of excellence around the country, and I always thought it was cool. He truly made me realize what’s possible in the world. Longevity specifically was something that he became interested in back in the late 2000s, so that is when I first was introduced to this field.

I first came across this field through people like Aubrey [de Grey] and David Sinclair – the big name, glitz-and-glamor type of folks in this field. I always knew about the whole longevity crusade throughout my time growing up, but it never really clicked for me in an actionable way until COVID hit.

I was in New York, which was not a great place to be during the beginning of COVID — hearing ambulances going off in the distance, taking people to the hospital, really took its toll. My grandfather was 92 at the time, and watching his generational cohort getting killed by COVID really, truly, deeply disturbed me.

I eventually realized that aging is the main driver behind COVID death and all other diseases of late life. So, I really got back into the longevity crusade after and because of COVID, but it was never a foreign topic for me. I consider myself, in a way, a child of the revolution that already started before I was born.

I’m the first generation brought up in this new world where aging is not an absolute certainty but something we can hope to control. Hopefully, that’s part of what we can accomplish: galvanize a grassroots movement among the other “children of the revolution” to make people realize that aging isn’t just an older person’s problem.

So, this interest in longevity and your career in politics sort of converged in you, and, along with a bunch of other people, you decided to start the Alliance for Longevity Initiatives. What is it, and why do we need such an organization?

I worked for the Democrats. I got swept up in the fervor in Pennsylvania, as I was a college student in the liberal towns outside of Philadelphia during and after the 2016 election. I never had the ambition to become a partisan political player, never wanted to be a career Democratic operative – the idea that some people like the “game” of politics really makes me uncomfortable.

I’m interested in politics because it’s the way to solve issues at the largest scale possible. So, I worked for the Democratic party, knowing that I would never be a partisan player, but wanting to expand my network and get involved.

I worked for the DNC [Democratic National Committee] in a variety of roles in 2019. And then, in 2020, I worked for the chief political consultant of many of the leaders for the Black Lives Matter movement. Later that year, I made the switch over to the Biden campaign, and I worked as a staffer in two counties in Pennsylvania.

I made some strong connections, coming out on the other side with a virtual Rolodex of hundreds if not thousands of people, who are now working in various offices, Senate, the House, etc. My network has gone on to do great things, which I’m happy about because that helps both me and the cause.

I realized quickly after my time with Biden that there was no political action for longevity, no institution that we could use to bring political change in a meaningful way. So, I did some research. Initially, my idea was to create a PAC [political action committee] – an organization that spends a large amount of money to get specific candidates elected. But then I realized that a 501(c)(4) [a type of non-profit organization] is a better fit if I want to create political and policy change.

The fact that there was no such organization in the longevity field came as a shock to me. I couldn’t believe I stumbled across this void. I quickly worked to set up the actual 501(c)(4) with the state of New York. At the same time, I was trying to create my network in the longevity community, because in January of 2021, that didn’t exist. I wasn’t connected. Nobody knew who I was.

LinkedIn is one heck of a tool, and I reached out to various longevity leaders on LinkedIn. We’re at the point now where we’ve put together a board and have a little funding and can operate on a shoestring budget for year one.

That’s excellent because the entity itself needs to exist so that when, in the future, longevity grows to a big enough political issue, this is already set up. However, we need a massive influx of money from the longevity community if we want to truly make a difference in Washington.

But we do have a lot of money in the game right now with all the corporate players, so probably this is where funds can come from?

Yes, I have been reaching out to companies. At this point, we have one large sponsor: the Methuselah Foundation, which has been a trusted entity for many years. My goal is to use the Methuselah Foundation’s support to show the broader community that serious players are backing us.

Ideally, this is how our organization should be funded: there are around a hundred longevity companies in the US right now. All of them have the interest to see general longevity political reform move forward. In that vein, we’re going to ask them to contribute something like .01% of their market cap (i.e. for a company worth $10,000,000, we would expect a contribution of $1,000) to the organization, in exchange for sponsorship rights.

The reason that I haven’t done a mass reach-out effort to these companies yet is because the organization is still very much under development. We’re still very new. But I’ll just say that we already have several pending large contributions from big players in the field.

There are so many new initiatives coming out. The last one that I’m thinking about was Impetus Grants, and there’s the new longevity foundation that literally just came out [Longevity Science Foundation]. There’s so much money being poured into this field, and I want people to see that our organization, A4LI, also needs to be funded because what we’re doing is unique and so essential. From an investor’s standpoint, a more robust political advocacy effort for an industry almost always means that the industry will continue to grow in monetary value. Investors, scientists, and advocates alike all have a stake in this and should care about helping A4LI achieve its goals.

Do you have specific policies in mind that you want to promote?

This is a good question. When I started this organization, my LinkedIn reaching out consisted of me asking people for responses on a white paper. And with that, I got a sense of what different people in the industry wanted to see happening from the standpoint of politics and policy reforms. And that showed me that there are many different factions in the community all wanting different, specific things.

However, I did find that there are still a few things that everybody can get behind, and those are the ones that we will be pushing forward at first. The near-future goal is to create a longevity caucus. We really believe that the caucus needs to be the first step, in order to ask for more appropriations for the NIH, to get FDA reform, etc. If you go on our website, you’ll be able to look at some of the initiatives we’re pushing forward. Things like increasing appropriations for the NIA Division of Aging Biology was also more or less universally backed in my whitepaper responses. People want to see that done.

When talking about the FDA, I’d like to stay as vague as possible, at least at first. As a new group, we don’t want to come and make demands regarding the FDA, which is a notoriously rigid institution. As the science develops, we’ll be able to push for FDA reforms more accurately and strategically. Anyway, it’s almost pointless to push FDA reforms now because there’s no longevity caucus. Until there’s infrastructure in Congress to get anything done, why even provoke the beast?

There’s one more policy change that we’re really pushing for in the near term. Andrew Yang promoted this back in the primary and it resonates with the longevity community. One of the things he promoted was creating a new economic scorecard based not only on GDP, inflation, etc., but more on human-centric measurements of the well-being of the economy [i.e. the Human Development Index, which accounts for life expectancy].

This idea already has some level of support within the Democratic Party, clearly, so this is an initiative we feel we can make happen sooner rather than later. Also, A4LI Leadership is currently in discussion with a ranking member of the Aging Committee on the Republican side about pushing for HALE [Health Adjusted Life Expectancy] to be adopted by the Bureau of Economic Analysis as an indication of economic well-being. So, clearly, there is a lot of bipartisan support already around changing the American economic scorecard to focus on improving healthspan.

This ties into the Longevity Dividend too. If we focus on increasing healthy lifespan, the monetary rewards are way greater than if we were to focus on increasing economic output. That also has a very bipartisan feeling to it and it’s not very controversial within the longevity field either. So, there’s a lot of value in pushing for that in the short term too.

The Alliance itself is an example of bipartisanship: for instance, you worked for the Biden campaign, and Breanna Deutsch, A4LI’s Political Director, worked for conservative politicians and think tanks. How do you get along?

Breanna and I get along very well on a personal level and actually have a lot more in common politically and strategically than one would think because of our backgrounds. And yes, we, as an organization, indeed are a great example of how bipartisan longevity can be. Another person on our board from the Republican side is Joe DeSantis, who is the chief strategy officer for Gingrich 360, Newt Gingrich’s firm.

I’ll also say that for our launch event on December 9th, we just confirmed that a former Congressman, Steve Israel, who was a Democratic leader in Congress for almost 20 years, will be joining alongside Newt Gingrich, the former Republican Speaker of the House. So, clearly, there’s something about longevity and aging that brings us all together.

You know, JFK said: “We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children’s future. We’re all mortal”. Those are three unifying facts of life, and JFK’s words ring truer now than ever. We are all mortal, i.e. we all age. It’s a sentiment both sides can understand and can hopefully get behind fighting. I’m very hopeful that people can see that, regardless of whether you’re left or right, you’re going to deal with the ill-effects of old age, which aren’t desirable in any way. The sooner we do something about it, the better.

I think, as the field progresses scientifically and as A4LI ramps up its advocacy efforts, people on both sides will continue to become more aware. It’s naive to think that as our ability to control aging and increase human longevity gets better, other political disagreements will magically go away. Both sides will still need to acknowledge and accept differences in opinions in other areas.

It’s crucial, however, that A4LI helps explain to both sides that treating aging and increasing longevity are efforts that we can all agree on. Moreover, it’s an effort that can also help alleviate a lot of the issues that we disagree on. By achieving the Longevity Dividend, for instance, we could increase our economic prosperity tenfold. That means the bottom, and the middle, and the top will all get wealthier and healthier. It also means the Democrats and Republicans would have one less item to argue intensely about.

Still, bipartisanship is now at a very low point. Do you think that this bipartisanship spirit you have in your organization can survive in Congress?

Yes, of course. I think that the sharpness of the partisan divide between the two parties in our country is somewhat less than it was a few years ago, as political leadership has changed. I’m confident that tensions are going to continue to go down and I am hopeful politicians are actually looking to make things happen for America.

Congress’s approval rating has always been low, but today it’s probably at its lowest ever. Frankly, after the last few years, the US government needs some wins. The government has to visibly start doing things that help people, and I think politicians understand that. Politicians care about what their constituents think because they really mostly care about job security — getting re-elected. Passing a longevity bill and framing it as a bipartisan win for Congress is a way for the sponsors and the supporters of the bill to show to their constituents that they’re actually doing something helpful. Because of that, I think we also won’t have a shortage of politicians lining up to sponsor and support a longevity bill, as it has such potential to be a signature political win that it’ll be hard to pass up. This is why I’m optimistic. Hopefully, my attitude is infectious.

I agree that, in general, the idea of life extension unites people, but on the other hand, surprisingly, not all people view it favorably. What counterarguments do you hear most, and how do you deal with them?

The left is very aware that billionaires are getting involved in the longevity space, and the onus will be on the billionaires to prove to the public that this isn’t just for them but that this will benefit humanity as a whole.

The other argument, mostly on the right, is that life extension is unnatural. As we go forward, we’re going to have to disprove that. You know, cancer treatment is unnatural. Living in a house with electrical wiring is unnatural. Everything we do is unnatural. This is just another step forward to help us live more comfortable, longer, and better lives.

So, it’s going to be up to us to set the message and try to change these people’s minds. We have to be able to explain to these conservative folks that we’ve already been extending life for years now with different medicines, and what we’re trying to do now is not so different.

It is also important for us to reach out to both the extreme left and right because politicians really care what their constituents think, and it feels like the extremes make up a majority of our voters nowadays. This is why making A4LI a massive grassroots movement with a wide range of messaging points is crucial. This can’t be only an effort by the longevity community’s richest and most powerful to throw money at politicians.

And if you don’t want to take the longevity medicines, you don’t have to, as simple as that. I’m a Democrat, I worked for the Democrats, but in that sense, I’m very libertarian. I’m not going to force anything on you that you don’t want. It’s your choice, but to me, it’s akin to refusing cancer treatment or refusing to live in a house with electricity. Why would anyone reject something to make their lives more comfortable and enjoyable? That’s how I see it.

In the rest of the developed world, life expectancy continues to rise slowly, while in the US, it has been stagnating and even decreasing for some groups in the population. Is this something that you are worried about?

Yes, life expectancy has gone down in the US because of drug overdoses, obesity, poverty and in general, because of people being unhealthy even at a younger age. We will certainly be preaching that message – that we should continue to push health standards in the country and that the best way to ensure longevity is to take care of yourself and not be overweight, etc.

However, what we’re really focusing on, at least for now until we get the capacity to be a massive grassroots organization, is getting the government aware of the developments in the longevity industry and to put a lot more resources towards the issue.

There are other advocacy groups that are focusing raising life expectancy in other ways, like improving poverty rates so people can afford better healthcare. One day I would like us to be a large-enough group so we can focus on many different things that improve longevity. But until we’re more established and more healthily funded, we’re going to have to focus on this specific approach: drug discovery in geroscience and regenerative medicine.

I also feel that many people are unhealthy because they understand that 80 years, 90 years of life is all they can hope for no matter what. Who cares about a slight difference in lifespan if it’s going to end at 90 anyways? This is why I believe that the creation of longevity therapies will change people’s mindsets. People will start realizing that it’s not automatically over when you’re 80, 90, thanks to these drugs. More people will be inclined to stay healthy, fit, and active because they will know that the end isn’t automatically near 80-90 if you keep yourself in decent shape.

Do you think that you’ll get to a point in your organization when you have to deal with the American healthcare system as a whole? Could this lead to disagreements?

I don’t think that we need to be the ones to do that, at least not yet. I also believe that, gradually, technology is going to solve many of the problems of our healthcare system. The availability of genetic sequencing, AI-driven medicine, robotics, etc., will make healthcare cheaper and better for all.

It will matter less if you can afford to go to your human doctor once a year or every month because you’ll have an AI doctor in your phone that is free and monitoring you 24/7. You won’t need to worry about cancer screenings every year because there’s something in your toilet bowl that detects cancer, etc.

Of course, I’m just making things up at this point. We don’t know what’s going to happen in five, ten years from now, but if historical trends are any indication, the technology is going to continue to get better and better at a faster rate. And since the US is still the world leader in biotech (most of the companies are here), I believe the US healthcare system will be the first to benefit from these technologies, which will make healthcare cheaper and better.

I also don’t think we’re big enough to start making demands about changing the US healthcare system. There’s a vast number of different groups out there that advocate for such a change, and I don’t want to lose focus of what our goal actually is – to make it easier, faster & cheaper for longevity companies to create drugs, through political reformation. If we can be a catalyst for moving the technology forward faster, the improvements to the American healthcare system will follow.

How do you personally view the longevity field; what are the most promising directions, the scientists to follow?

I will preface this by saying that I’m not a scientific expert, and a lot of my thoughts are based on what prominent scientists in the field say. I think we should try every avenue, assuming at least one of them is going to work, and I obviously have no idea which one that’s going to be yet. So, this is more of me telling you whose fanboy I am.

I really respect David Sinclair, just because he’s such a good spokesman for the community. He’s a very smooth and easy-to-digest speaker, which is why he’s able to reach out to and befriend mainstream celebrities like Joe Rogan and Tom Brady. So, he’s a spectacular ambassador for the crusade, and as the industry continues to grow, I hope we can find more scientists with big personalities like David to go out and spread the word.

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CategoryInterviews, News
About the author
Arkadi Mazin

Arkadi Mazin

Arkadi is a seasoned journalist and op-ed author with a passion for learning and exploration. His interests span from politics to science and philosophy. Having studied economics and international relations, he is particularly interested in the social aspects of longevity and life extension. He strongly believes that life extension is an achievable and noble goal that has yet to take its rightful place on the very top of our civilization’s agenda – a situation he is eager to change.
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