Forbes: Longevity Vision Fund Fueling The Longevity Biotechnology Boom We've Been Waiting For

During the Longevity Leaders Forum in London Sergey Young, a celebrity investor and fund manager announced the launch of the $100 million Longevity Vision Fund. Endpoints, one of the most popular and trusted publications in the pharmaceutical industry and also covers the nascent longevity biotechnology industry closely was the first to report on the story

Before that, I saw him at many longevity-oriented events, often with the father of exponential entrepreneurship, Peter Diamandis, who started Human Longevity, Inc., Cellularity, and other longevity-focused startups. Last year, I saw him meeting some of the most influential business people in healthcare in China and attending the lectures of one of my role models, Wang Jian, the founder of Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI) who presented his work in the employee longevity program.

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Sergey is a heavy-hitter and plays to win. Before the Longevity Vision Fund (LVF) he managed a fund with over $2 billion in assets under management and delivered above-average returns by investing in technology and classical companies. He shortlisted some of the most impactful scientists in longevity biotechnology as his advisors and invested in the biopharmaceutical companies deeply rooted in this industry. I am certain that this fund will be successful and, most likely, will be the first of many funds he will manage. The first investments he is planning to make will be in the enabling technologies that help accelerate the pace of technological breakthroughs in longevity science. Investing in specific therapeutic interventions is incredibly risky as the outcomes are usually binary and the failure rate in the pharmaceutical drug development exceeds 90%. He is planning to make the bets on artificial intelligence for biomarker development and drug discovery, non-invasive or minimally-invasive diagnostics, clinical infrastructure, and other enabling areas. LVF will collaborate and co-invest with Peter Diamandis's Bold Capital Partners and Singularity University. 

But what excites me the most is how quickly our industry is developing. In the past few years, several funds or collections of companies exclusively focused on aging and longevity have emerged out of stealth. These are JuvenescenceApollo VenturesDeep Knowledge VenturesLife BiosciencesLongevity Fund, and Google’s Calico, which can probably be classified as an incubator. The most prominent player to date is Juvenescence started by the celebrity investor, Jim Mellon; former head of drug development at Pfizer, Declan Doogan, and the first investor in Medivation (acquired by Pfizer for $14.5 billion), Gregory Bailey. They did not create a fund per se but rather formed a holding company that is developing a portfolio of products in many longevity biotechnology areas. They raised over $100 million and are likely to do an IPO soon. Life Biosciences, which raised over $75 million in two rounds has a similar model. David Sinclair, a Harvard professor famous for his work in sirtuins and Sirtris, one of the largest exits in longevity biotechnology, managed to bring together some of the industry heavyweights and reputable scientists possibly eclipsing Calico's to focus on business incubation around the hallmarks of aging. Apollo Ventures, started by James Payer, is focused on venture creation and incubation. Laura Deming’s Longevity Fund is comparatively small but makes smart bets at the seed level.

The emergence of these funds creates a real deficit for startups in this area and many academics we are working with are preparing for or considering setting up companies to commercialize their research.

The major superstar of the longevity biotechnology industry is Ned David’s Unity Biotechnology. Not only are they commercializing one of the most promising low-hanging fruits - senolytics, molecules that kill senescent cells - but they also launched an IPO at nearly unicorn valuation. Another substantial player in the longevity space is Osman Kibar's Samumed which raised $438 million in August 2018 at over $12 billion valuations to develop drugs targeting the elements of the Wnt pathway for a broad range of age-related diseases. 

Over 15 years have passed since I decided to quit a lucrative career in IT and set on a mission to extend productive longevity. It was clear to me back then that, due to the population growth in emerging countries and unprecedented increases in longevity, the global economy is no longer sustainable. And, paradoxically, the only altruistic way to save the economy from collapsing and accelerate economic growth is to extend the productive portion of human life. The extension of a person’s youthful and productive period is also the most altruistic cause one may pursue because by extending the lives of everyone on the planet by just one Quality-adjusted Life Year (QALY), one can generate over seven billion QALYs, which would create far more of an impact than any doctor. But it is also clear that there is a lot of money to be made in this field.

When I started my journey in longevity biotechnology, only a few scientists were involved in serious research in aging. There were no biomarkers of aging with the exception of the highly-inaccurate telomere length markers and only a few interventions, such as diet, exercise, antioxidants, and stem cells, were discussed at the conferences. There were some activists, billionaires who supported projects of questionable credibility.

Back then the anti-aging science was perceived as snake oil and not credible science. Aubrey de Grey had just started a non-profit called the Methuselah Foundation, and nobody contemplated a venture fund focused on longevity biotechnology because there were no credible startups in the field to invest in.

But over the past five years, the longevity biotechnology changed dramatically. Credible advances in aging biomarkers commonly referred to as aging clocks now make it possible to measure the rate of aging in humans and conduct clinical studies without the need to wait until the end of life. These same biomarkers provide us with clues for interventions that may be used to reverse these aging clocks on multiple levels. Advances in artificial intelligence allow us to build multi-modal models of human health and aging and accelerate pretty much every step of the pharmaceutical R&D facilitating for the new sustainable business models that help solve challenges in the pharmaceutical industry.

Now there are senolytics, NAD+ boosters, stem cell transplants, isotopically-fortified organic compounds and much more. There now are many ways to measure or predict the biological age using artificial intelligence. And regenerative medicine and gene therapy technologies are catching up. The rate of progress in this industry is rapidly accelerating. 

The longevity biotechnology industry resembles the PC industry in the early 80s or the Internet in the late 90s. Everyone understands that it will be very substantial and the world is going to change, but only the smartest investors will make enormous amounts of money. But unlike any other industry, money will not be the main definition of success. It will be the number of healthy and happy years added to everyone's’ lifespans.