More and more investors are starting to get interested in technologies that are being developed to slow or even reverse aging as therapies are starting to reach human trials. Recently, I attended the Longevity Investors Conference to learn more about investments being made towards anti-aging research.
A shift towards doing something about aging
The current focus of much of society tends towards compensating for the ill health and loss of independence that aging brings, rather than on developing rejuvenation biotechnologies, which target the aging processes directly in order to prevent age-related diseases and so keep older people healthy and active for longer.
Thankfully, over the last few years, there has been increasing support for tackling aging directly. Thanks to various advances in our knowledge over the past decade, many scientists are now confident that something can be done about aging, and their numbers are growing by the year.
In the last few years, we have also seen an increased interest from the investment community and even governments. There are now lots of rejuvenation biotechnology companies being created and, most importantly, funded, which is doubtlessly a response to the number of therapies that have reached human clinical trials.
An investor-focused conference
October 1st saw the Longevity Investors Conference being held online, and it welcomed a mixture of researchers and investors to discuss the landscape of the aging research field.
Marc Bernegger, a Swiss entrepreneur and one of the conference organizers, firmly believes that the longevity industry, as many investors are calling it, will become one of the largest investment opportunities in the coming decades. Given that every human being on the planet is a potential customer, I would go as far as to suggest that a successful longevity industry would be the biggest industry not just on the planet but in history.
The conference was originally due to be held in St. Moritz on October 1, but like many other conferences in our field, the current pandemic forced it to go virtual. Despite this setback, the conference managed to bring the research and investment communities together and introduced longevity newcomers to some of the exciting things happening in the field.
Investors were introduced to the field of aging research by Drs. Aubrey de Grey and David Sinclair, who covered topics such as what aging is, NAD+ biology, partial cellular reprogramming; together, they provided a great high-level summary of our current understanding of aging and where we are in translating therapies to humans.
Following this solid introduction to the topic, there were talks about the investment landscape in the longevity industry, with early adopters, such as billionaire investment mogul Jim Mellon, sharing their insights. Jim mentioned that we are at a crucial stage in the longevity industry, and with some recent high-profile failures from UNITY and ResTORbio, there has been some damage to investor confidence.
I have to agree with his point, and what is sorely lacking and urgently needed now is a successful human trial of an anti-aging therapy to prevent further erosion of investor interest. This will mean that companies planning to move to clinical trials will need to make sure that they have all their ducks in a row and are choosing the optimal targets to demonstrate the viability of therapies that target aging. This was one of the take-homes of the conference and was echoed over the course of multiple talks and panels.
It was also apparent that many of the investors currently interested in longevity technology were also aware that returns on investment in this space would take a long time: approximately 10 years compared to 3 years or so for regular pharmaceutical investment. Certainly, anyone investing in this pioneering field should be patient and willing to accept that they are in for the long haul.
It was pleasing to hear that a number of current investors in the field are less concerned with making a profit and more focused on the positive health outcomes that would accompany success, not only for them personally but also for society as a whole.
During a panel, Jim Mellon also quashed a typical concern of longevity therapies being too expensive for everyone to afford, and he was confident that past the early adopters, who will of course pay a premium, the technology would be scalable, given the vast market for it. This makes sense, and we have seen this numerous times with medicine and technology.
Is society ready for increased longevity?
Professor Andrew J. Scott also gave a presentation that looked at society and if it was ready for increased longevity through advances in medical technology. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the conclusion was that no, it is not yet ready for the potentially huge changes that increased longevity will likely bring.
However, the good news is that Professor Scott also believes that society is starting to shift towards a wider acceptance of the fact that people alive today may live significantly longer than previous generations just by the increasing global life expectancy.
Indeed, a recent study in Finland confirmed that there is a marked difference in the functional ability of older people alive today compared to those of thirty years ago and that “currently 75- and 80-year-old people in Finland are living to older ages nowadays with better physical functioning.”
There are also changes in the labor market that suggest this acceptance is spreading, and trends in education show that older adult learning is now a huge share of the market. Quite simply, people are, in general, aging more slowly and in better shape than those of their grandparents’ generation and are able to be productive, independent and even continue to work comfortably beyond the age at which people 30 years ago would typically retire.
Along with these signs, there is now far more public discussion and debate about longevity in general. Increasingly, we are seeing more articles in papers and magazines that discuss longevity and increasing it through science and technology.
So, society appears already to be shifting towards accepting the idea that we may all live longer and healthier lives, and, with that, we should consider finances, worklife, retirement, and more in that context. Society, and especially finances and pensions, will certainly need to change to cope with increasing longevity, and this was also a common theme during the conference panels.
Professor Scott also proposed the idea that if wider society becomes accepting of the idea that its members will live longer than previous generations, they will want to invest in their health for that additional time. If they do that, it will not be long before people will want to improve on that extra time and thus ease them into the idea of even longer lives than just 3-5 extra years.
The take-home I got from this was that while society is not yet ready for extreme longevity, the idea should become more palatable to society as things continue to shift.
A Swiss “Longevity Valley”
Conference co-host Marc Bernegger has talked about the creation of a Swiss “Longevity Valley”, a place where companies working on aging and longevity gather, much like the tech companies of Silicon Valley, and he could well be right. Switzerland has a large pharmaceutical industry as well as a flourishing biotechnology industry and could be poised to become a nexus for longevity-focused companies in the near future.
Switzerland has a number of factors favouring it becoming a longevity valley, given the country’s superb healthcare system, large pharmaceutical and biotech sectors, stable political system, and world-leading financial system. These factors make Switzerland an ideal location for creating a cluster of companies working on aging.
Switzerland also has the second-highest life expectancy in the world with an average of 83.3 years and appears to have an appetite for longevity, as I found out earlier this year when I was asked to write a feature article for the magazine Schweizer Monat (Swiss Month), which covered the longevity industry this year. You can find an English version of that article here.
The Longevity Investors Conference is planned to return in 2021, hopefully being held at St. Moritz, and will be a longer event over multiple days if so. We wish to congratulate Marc and his colleagues for organizing the conference and look forward to being at the next one.