How does an idea that is too unconventional for mainstream channels get funded? Often, even venture capitalist firms are too risk-averse, and government funding agencies are too entrenched in the status quo, to consider the most revolutionary ideas. Commonly given advice in the start-up world tells us to first look to the three F’s: family, friends, and fools.
However, if your venture is in biotech, the three F’s can’t provide nearly enough capital to get an operation off the ground. This is where angel investors, high-net-worth individuals who fund start-ups, come in. They get their namesake because often they are the only option for ideas that are really early or “out there.” Rather than convince a panel of grant reviewers or the board of a venture capital firm to fund a particular idea among a sea of other innovative but more traditional ideas, you only need to change the mind of a single angel investor or group. Today, the concept of longevity research is rapidly gaining adoption, but it wasn’t long ago that angel investors and the rare NIH grant were the only options for people fighting for increased longevity. Longevity enthusiasts are likely to know names like Peter Thiel, Dmitry Itskov, J. Craig Venter, Sergey Brin, Larry Ellison, and Jeff Bezos for their personal contributions, both as philanthropists and investors.
Among angel investors, Jim Mellon was one of the earliest adopters of longevity research. While his fortune has come from various other sectors, he founded Mann Bioinvest, published Cracking the Code, and started praising the healthy longevity strategy back in 2012. With all the progress and setbacks of the last decade, Jim remains optimistic about the field, recently claiming that the world is on the brink of three major revolutions, with increased longevity being one of them.
In biotech, Jim Mellon is most well-known for his role in Juvenescence, which is both a book he authored on biotech investment and a longevity company he co-founded. Since its initiation, Juvenescence has become an industry-leading incubator of other longevity-focused companies and has raised more than $150 million to date. Juvenescence has engaged in several initiatives, including anti-aging pharmacotherapies through partnerships with Napa Therapeutics, FoxBio, Sovien Therapeutics, and BYOMass. The company is also marketing supplements that don’t require a prescription, having recently partnered with BHB Therapeutics.
Its data science arm includes partnerships with the well-known Insilico Medicine, which has become one of the leading artificial intelligence and machine learning companies in the field of drug discovery. Similarly, Juvenescence has funded Relation Therapeutics in 2019 and Juvenomics just last year.
Lastly, Juvenescence has its hand in tissue regeneration and cell therapy approaches to healthy longevity via AgeX Therapeutics and LyGenesis. While still at the preclinical stage, LyGenesis has been perhaps the most successful tissue engineering and regenerative medicine company thus far. The two companies announced last month that they plan to negotiate a merger agreement to become a single entity. Meanwhile, Morphoceuticals, Inc. is a newly announced program taking aim at limb regeneration. On the heels of all this activity, which has occurred entirely in the last 4-5 years, Jim Mellon has suggested that Juvenescence may be eyeing an IPO in the near future.
Separately from Juvenescence, Jim Mellon also played a role as chairman of Regent Pacific during its acquisition of AI firm Deep Longevity last year. He’s also invested in Repair Biotechnologies and various other companies outside the scope of Juvenescence.
Beyond his investments, Jim Mellon has also made various donations to longevity nonprofits in recent years, including the UCL Institute of Healthy Ageing, Methuselah, and SENS, among others. In 2020, he donated £1 million to Oriel College in order to support and advance the study of Longevity Science at Oxford University, the largest donation of its kind.
For better or worse, high-net-worth individuals are imperative to the translation of treatments from the bench to bedside. While some media organizations make negative comments that billionaires are simply attempting to buy their own immortality without regard for anyone else’s health, these concerns are largely overblown. Overall, few people have done as much to increase human longevity as Jim Mellon. Beyond putting up his own capital, he’s also played a major role in convincing others to do the same, thereby accelerating longevity research and moving us towards a healthier future.