On this episode of Lifespan News, Ryan O’Shea explains Dr. Aubrey de Grey’s mission-focused talk at Ending Age-Related Diseases 2021, where he outlined the challenges facing a nascent rejuvenation biotechnology industry.
Dr. Aubrey de Grey is best known outside of the longevity community for discussing the end of aging on the TED stage as well as on 60 Minutes, The Colbert Report, The Joe Rogan Experience, and many other popular programs. Inside of the longevity community, Dr. de Grey is known for co-founding the SENS Research Foundation and the Methuselah Foundation, both of which do impressive work in seeking to solve the problem of human aging. In recent weeks, Dr. de Grey has once again been in the news, but not for his efforts in longevity science. Despite this, or perhaps in part because of it, Dr. de Grey’s recent talk at the 2021 Ending Age Related Diseases conference got quite a bit of attention.
On August 19, 2021, Dr. Aubrey de Grey addressed the attendees of Lifespan.io’s fourth annual Ending Age Related Diseases Conference with a talk focused on the continuing work and changing priorities within the field of longevity. This talk was given during the independent investigation, while Dr. de Grey was on administrative leave from SENS but while he was still affiliated with the foundation. His only comment on that came at the very beginning.
“I just thought I’d start by saying that some of you may have heard perhaps of a complication that’s going on in my life right now. I just wanted to say that there is an independent investigation, which was started at the beginning of July and is still ongoing. That, of course, means a couple of things.
First of all, it means that I am on administrative leave, which means that I am not representing SENS Research Foundation here today; officially, I am here in a personal capacity. I should mention that I just noticed I have the SENS Research Foundation logo at the bottom of all my slides, so please pretend that that isn’t there.
Apart from that, I can’t say anything more at all about what’s going on; of course, this would be the wrong place anyway. I just want to say how overwhelmed I am for all the love and support that I’ve received from hundreds and hundreds of people, and it shouldn’t be long now. So you know, watch this space.”
Dr. de Grey then got on to the main content of his talk, in which he detailed 5 “Emerging Challenges” that he sees in longevity science.
Challenge #1 is short-termism, and the pressure to go after low-hanging fruit. This exists in the business world as a focus on achieving profits as soon as possible, and in the academic world through the “publish or perish” mentality. The problem with this, Dr. de Grey argues, is that much of this research doesn’t lead anywhere, and short-termism takes focus away from harder problems that actually may be more useful to solve.
Challenge #2 is that combining therapies, while useful to generate knowledge, is boring, meaning that there’s no incentive for researchers to do the difficult work of studying the effects of combined therapies when that work isn’t the primary interest of the high-profile publishers. Intellectual property also stands in the way combined therapies, and licensing deals typically take a long time to work out.
According to Dr. de Grey, some of the reportedly $27 million dollars worth of cryptocurrency recently donated to SENS through the PulseChain Airdrop will fund work on combining therapies –
“…at the Foundation, there is now a very nascent effort to do that. We are putting together a program to put just two therapies together, a stem cell therapy and a senolytic therapy, and there’s going to be a lot more of that.
I believe that one of the biggest consequences of the enormous windfall that some of you may know we received recently is that there’ll be a very big expansion of work at SENS Research Foundation on combining therapies. It may end up, in fact, being our main focus over the next few years, but we shall see.”
Challenge #3 is that more money means less mission. Dr. de Grey explained that he sees that many angel and seed investors supporting companies in the longevity field are mission focused. They have the goal of seeing longevity science succeed and enabling people to live longer, healthier lives. However, when companies in this space prematurely seek to go public or be acquired, additional money, likely tied to less mission-driven motivations and incentives, comes into play. This can be the downfall of mission-driven companies, and Dr. de Grey warns that we “could end up having things slow down and go less rapidly than they could if we allow too many companies to make this kind of mistake.”
Challenge #4 deals with the clinical trial for metformin against aging, or TAME. According to Dr. de Grey, this trial faced considerable challenges within the FDA and NIH. Even once those hurdles seem to have been cleared, which was no small feat, the trial still faced funding concerns as metformin was off-patent and industry had no financial incentive to fund a trial. Instead, donors and foundations had to fill the void. Dr. de Grey believes that the TAME trial will be groundbreaking, and could encourage big pharma to invest in longevity therapies if there can be a demonstrated path to market. However, the trial is years behind schedule and has yet to really get off the ground. This delay is a major challenge, and it must be overcome.
Challenge #5 is that policy-makers and governments have short attention spans. This is particularly relevant now because COVID-19 disproportionately negatively affects elderly people, so aging and the health concerns accompanying it have been front of mind. And COVID-19 didn’t just end lives and harm health, it also heavily impacted the economy – and policy-makers care deeply about the economy. So, while this is on their mind, this could be a good opportunity to remind them of the extraordinary benefits that would come from addressing the problems of aging. Here’s how Dr. de Grey put it –
“I’ve mentioned in the past, I may even have mentioned a year ago at this meeting, that COVID is a bit of an opportunity, in the sense that it has hit the elderly extraordinarily preferentially. As we know, most infectious diseases are worse for the elderly than for young adults, but it’s particularly extreme in the case of COVID.
What we have not, I believe, said nearly loudly enough and focused policymakers nearly strongly enough on is the fact that among all of the damage repair rejuvenation technologies that we’re interested in, rejuvenating the immune system is really going rather well. It’s one of the ones that’s furthest along.
…If policymakers were to understand that really not very much additional public money thrown at this kind of area could have a significant impact on the immune function of the elderly, that could have a very significant impact on the likelihood, let alone the severity, of any future pandemic, then we would be in a better position than what we are now.”Overall, the crusade against aging is accelerating, but there’s still much work to be done. And to avoid regressing, we need to address some of the emerging challenges we are facing. Timing is critical, and now is the time to act. You can see the full video of Dr. de Grey’s presentation on the Lifespan.io YouTube Channel, or read the full transcript on the Lifespan.io website, both linked in the description. Please subscribe for more updates on the business and science of longevity. I’m Ryan O’Shea, and we’ll see you next time on Lifespan News!