As our readers probably already know, from March 15 to March 17 this year, the Undoing Aging 2018 Conference will be held at the Umspannwerk Alexanderplatz in Berlin, Germany. The event is intended to bring together scientists working on repair-based therapies for aging as well as to give life sciences students—and anyone else who may be interested, really—an occasion to deepen their understanding of the current state of rejuvenation research.
Organised by the Forever Healthy Foundation and the SENS Research Foundation, the conference will feature eminent researchers among its many speakers, such as the director of the Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine, Dr. Anthony Atala; Dr. Kristen Fortney, who is an expert on computational drug discovery and aging biomarkers; Dr. Michael West, co-CEO of BioTime and founder of Geron Corporation; Dr. James Kirkland, a world-class expert on cellular senescence; and Dr. Vera Gorbunova, a pioneer of the comparative biology approach to the study of aging and co-director of the Rochester Aging Research Center. In addition to its scientific, educational, and networking value, UA2018 will no doubt greatly contribute to the popularisation of this area of research and help spread awareness, both about the problem represented by age-related diseases and the great opportunity we have to finally bring aging under comprehensive medical control within a relatively short time frame.
LEAF, naturally, will attend the event to keep you fully up to date, and our readers can expect extensive coverage during and following the event. Meanwhile, to whet your appetite, we caught up with Forever Healthy’s founder and CEO, Michael Greve, to learn a bit more about his foundation and the story of his involvement in life extension.
Michael and Forever Healthy
Michael’s success as an entrepreneur dates all the way back to the early days of the Internet. In 1995, he and his brother Matthias founded web.de, which grew into one of the largest and most popular Internet portals in Germany. Among the several other ventures started by Michael and his brother are the flight booking website flug.de and the last-minute travel site lastminute.de.
As Michael himself said during his talk at RB2016, which was organised by SRF and hosted by the Buck Institute for Research on Aging, his lifestyle during his hacker days wasn’t among the healthiest; his interest in healthy life extension developed as a consequence of his efforts to switch to a healthier way of living. Eventually, his research into the science of staying healthy led him to the work of Dr. de Grey and the realisation that staving off age-related diseases and preserving health indefinitely was a potentially achievable goal.
Following this serendipitous discovery, he founded and launched the Forever Healthy Foundation, whose goal is to speed up the creation of a rejuvenation biotechnology industry so that aging and the ailments that come with it may soon become relics of the past. The FH Foundation website is an open-source knowledge base meant to provide free access to information with which people can develop personal longevity strategies. However, even the healthiest of lifestyles will not prevent the diseases of aging from manifesting sooner or later; to do so, it will be necessary to repair the damage the body causes to itself as a side effect of its normal operation—in other words, to make use of rejuvenation biotechnologies.
To make sure these technologies will be available sooner rather than later, Michael’s Kizoo Ventures provides mentoring, seed, and early-stage financing for startups that focus on rejuvenation biotech. Up to now, Kizoo has funded Oisin Biotechnologies, Ichor Therapeutics’ LysoCLEAR, and AgeX Therapeutics, among others. Furthermore, in 2016, the FH Foundation committed 5 million dollars specifically to SENS research, while seed investments for at least 5 more million were committed by Kizoo for startups eventually spinning off that very research.
We thought it’d be interesting to get to know Michael a bit better and learn about his journey into life extension, his expectations for UA2018 and the nascent rejuvenation biotechnology industry in general. Here’s what we talked about.
So, Michael, can you tell us a bit more about your history as an entrepreneur?
As an entrepreneur, it’s been an incredible journey for me. The flourishing of the PC, the internet, smartphones, the cloud, the post-PC era. I am grateful to have been born at this time. Having been able to experience this development first-hand, to co-found and grow several major internet companies in Germany, to go public and today finance and mentor some of our country’s most exciting startups, is something I am thankful for every day.
Now, the same dramatic evolution we saw in information technology is happening in genetics, biology, and nanotechnology. No matter how spectacular our technological development has been so far, I am even more excited about what lies ahead of us.
Did any particular event trigger your decision to switch from your old, unhealthy lifestyle to a better one, or did it just happen, so to speak?
Nothing in particular, just the realization one day that it would be stupid to carry on like this.
Did you just “stumble” upon rejuvenation in your search for healthier ways of living, or did you independently realise that aging is bad for you and decided to see if others had come to the same conclusion?
When you think about how to stay healthy for as long as possible, you naturally conclude that aging itself is your biggest enemy and start asking yourself what to do about it.
Aside from the obvious—healthy eating, exercising, and avoiding bad habits—what else is included in your personal longevity strategy?
On one hand, there are the other significant aspects of primary prevention, such as a proper circadian rhythm and limiting blue light exposure, stress management and meditation, getting rid of toxins and heavy metals, high-end supplementation (both oral and IV), intermittent fasting and a cyclic fast mimicking diet. Additionally, I am continuously applying the latest findings in functional medicine and genetics to monitor and counter my low-level biochemical imbalances and potential risk factors for age-related diseases.
The other two pillars of my personal longevity strategy are regularly using the best possible early detection and applying the most promising, albeit still limited, rejuvenation therapies and geroprotectors available today, such as hormone replacement, de-calcification, metformin, deprenyl, berberine and mitochondrial target Q10. For the near future, I am closely following the latest developments and ongoing trials in rapamycin, NAD+, and young plasma exosomes.
For those interested, we have documented this holistic approach on our forever-healthy.org website, freely available to everyone, and are continuously updating and expanding it. We are in the process of hiring a team of skilled medical professionals to accelerate work on this important project. Interested candidates can directly apply through our website.
During your talk at RB2016, you spoke about your own advocacy efforts. UA2018 is a glaring example of such efforts, but can you tell us about other ways you try to spread awareness and how (if at all) you think the public’s perception of the subject has changed over the years?
We do physical meetups now and then in Berlin and are hosting an active community on Facebook, encouraging people to exchange their personal approach to healthy longevity.
In general, public opinion has already changed significantly over the past two or three years. Nowadays, you read much more often and positive on extending the healthy human lifespan.
I firmly believe that once the first working rejuvenation therapy is out there, the whole discussion will immediately change. It will turn from abstract arguments about over-population and such to a very personal one. Do I want to live twenty more years in good health or not? At that point, I guess nobody will say, “Well no, I won’t use that treatment and rather get cancer because of, you know, overpopulation.”
So, the best thing we can all work on is to make this very first therapy happen and then really promote it.
Many people in our community are hoping to see more wealthy people engaged because they have more resources at their disposal and could have a greater impact by donating even a small share of their wealth. However, we don’t see that happening much. What messages might be more convincing to these wealthy people? Are they any different from what we usually say when we are trying to convince someone?
Large-scale philanthropy in a very early market such as rejuvenation biotech is hard and only for a few very forward-thinking individuals. I think the most straightforward and effective message to rich people, in general, is to show them a way to become even richer.
I see the acceleration of the development of actual rejuvenation therapies as a three-stage process. First, motivate scientists to enter the field and work on the underlying science, then spin out promising research results as early as possible into fundable startups and finally bring in private capital to fuel development of the actual therapies. This last step will allow those high net-worth individuals to both put their money to good use and benefit from it at the same time.
That is why we are organizing the Undoing Aging conference, funding basic research and working hard to move promising research into fundable startups, allowing private capital to fuel the journey from there on. In terms of startups, we have done this already a few times and are seeing a lot of positive effects there.
What do you expect out of UA2018? What do you expect it to impact the most? Public awareness, investors’ interest, or networking among scientists?
First and foremost, we are focussed on the science itself. We want to provide a platform for the existing scientific community that already works on damage repair and strengthens the community itself. At the same time, Undoing Aging offers interested scientists and students a first-hand understanding of the current state of affairs to attract new scientists to our exciting field.
Apart from that, we have invited the broader longevity community to enable extended networking and support all advocates that do public work. Since we have a lot of interest from journalists, bloggers and several TV stations, there is going to be a public aspect as well.
So, yes, you could say it’s networking on all levels to advance our cause.
Are there any plans to make Undoing Aging into an annual event?
Yes, we are in this for the long run. This year, we have already received so much positive feedback and even more registrations than we expected. That is very encouraging.
Tax-funded rejuvenation research could do a lot to speed up the arrival of effective anti-aging therapies to the clinic; the German Party for Health, in which you serve as a strategic advisor, was created exactly to achieve this goal. Do you think it may be possible to get governments involved in early-stage research, or will their interest only spark once feasibility is proven—for example, through robust mouse rejuvenation or even early human trials?
Governments only move if a substantial number of their people demand it, and a sufficient number of people will only realize the potential once the first human rejuvenation therapies are available. I don’t think a mouse will do the trick. Once we are nearing this threshold, organizations like the Party for Health will provide an ideal platform to channel that energy.
Again at RB2016, you talked about the need for this industry to be self-accelerating, just like the internet industry. The latter, though, owes much of its success to the fact that new companies could easily build on existing products and technologies that became cheap and easily accessible fairly soon or were freely available and open source. Do you think there is a way to speed up things in biotech in a similar way? What are the game changers, in your opinion?
There are two fundamental differences here.
First, as you said, we could easily build on what was before. We had the HTTP protocol, a web server, a browser, Linux and freely available databases. You could create virtually any service on top of that platform. Rejuvenation biotech is different. Here, you need one scientific discovery per startup. So this is much harder.
On the other hand, the future rejuvenation biotech market is probably at least two orders of magnitude bigger than the internet industry. Just compare the personal value of, let’s say, an iPhone and the valuation of the company that builds it to the personal value of staying free of cancer and all the other age-related diseases for your whole life and even extending your healthy lifespan by decades. That gives you an idea of what the valuation of such a company could be. In the case of rejuvenation therapies, it’s not going to be a single company or service. Due to the nature of aging, there will be many different therapies and many different companies. So there is a huge incentive to invest in that industry.
Speaking of accelerating progress, how do you see the impact of AI, particularly machine learning, in research in the coming years? Do you believe that it will help speed things up?
AI will be an essential tool in the future of medicine and can also be very helpful in science.
Many people are concerned about affordability. Do you imagine that governments will necessarily have to step in and subsidise rejuvenation therapies that are otherwise difficult to afford?
There is no need to worry about that. We are talking about a market with billions of customers, numerous possible approaches to each aspect of aging, such as clearance of senescent cells. And you can’t patent an approach in general, e.g. clearing senescent cells, just the particular implementation. In such a market, the fundamental economic forces as in any other industry will apply, and healthy competition and a multitude of products in combination with a massive customer base will force quality up and prices down as products quickly mature and become a general commodity.
You are currently supporting several biotech startups that are taking rejuvenation treatments into clinical trials. Is there an estimate of the baseline cost of these therapies, and do you know what the companies are planning to do to make them more affordable?
At the end of the day, these therapies are going to be an extremely affordable commodity.
As an investor, what actions would you recommend other investors to take to help kick-start the rejuvenation industry and make sure that a positive feedback loop will allow it to grow exponentially as the Internet industry did? What traps are there to avoid, and how do we avoid them?
Well, the potential rewards are immense, but so are the potential risks. So you have to be prepared to either write off most of your investments if you invest at an early stage or pay an enormous premium if you invest at later stages.
Finally, something of a personal question. You certainly know about longevity escape velocity—a situation in which life expectancy grows faster than time is passing. How optimistic are you that we may reach it within your lifetime, or ever?
Of course, we don’t know for sure when or at what probability, but I think it is much more motivating, fun and exciting to work under the assumption that we can make it and will also provide the best chances that we do make it. If we don’t make it to LEV, at least we will enjoy an extremely long and healthy life.
Do you have any parting, take-home message for our readers that you would like to share?
I think we are living in the most extraordinary time in human history; let’s make the best of it.