Global Trends - The Rising Longevity Industry
Biogerontology Research Foundation trustees will attend The Economist conference Ageing Societies 2016 on 29-30th November in London.
Biogerontology Research Foundation UK executives and trustees Dmitry Kaminskiy and Alex Zhavoronkov will attend panel discussions at the Aging Societies conference 2016, organized by The Economist, in London, United Kingdom on November 29-30th 2016.
The upcoming Aging Societies 2016 conference and related upcoming Business of Longevity conference in San Francisco on December 7th signals the increasing interest in longevity science among investors and economists and is a testament to how hot the sector is becoming. The Economist is influential among policymakers and this event is a major milestone for the community.
One week later, The Business of Longevity conference in San Francisco, also organized by The Economist, will feature many prominent speakers in the longevity space, such as: Nir Barzilai, Professor of Medicine and Genetics and Director of the Institute for Aging Research, Albert Einstein College of Medicine; J. Craig Venter, co-founder, executive chairman of Human Longevity Inc.; Brian Kennedy of the Buck Institute for Research on Aging; Esther Dyson, executive founder of Way to Wellville, and others.
Kaminskiy Predicted the 2017 Emergence of the Longevity Industry Over 2 Years Ago
At the Big Data Science and Medicine Conference organized in September 2014 at Oxford University by the Biogerontology Research Foundation (BGRF), Managing Trustee Dmitry Kaminskiy predicted an investment boom in the biotech industry in 2015 and an ensuing boom in the longevity biomedicine sector in 2017.
Figure 1: NBI (NASDAQ Biotech Index) 2010-2015
Notably, this rise in biotech investment in 2015 was not solely a result of increased investment public securities; 2015 was also notable for a rise in Series A funding for new biotech start-ups.
How has the biotech sector fared in 2016? From its peak in July 2015 the NASDAQ Biotechnology Sector Index fell roughly 37% to reach a level equal to what it saw in the start of 2014, and is down by roughly 14% for the year.
But this doesn’t necessarily foreshadow a continuing decrease, because when looked at in the context of other markets, we see that it has still out-performed other market sectors. We can see, for instance, that it beat the NASDAQ Composite by 86.3% and the S&P 500 by 175.6%.
However, sector saw a roughly 12% increase in the third quarter of 2016. With the reversal of the trend in the third quarter of 2016 and its performance in comparison to other markets are taken into account, the 2016 drop in the biotech sector is a welcome and healthy correction to high valuations.
To view the investment landscape in the formal life sciences industry alone is, however, not enough. It is merely one dimension of a much bigger picture.
One can see ripples and waves of this larger phenomenon elsewhere. Consider the establishment of DARPA’s Biological Technologies Office, a move that was made to put significantly more DARPA funds into biotechnology. Indeed, in their own words, “DARPA is poised to give unprecedented prominence to a field of research that can no longer be considered peripheral to technology’s evolving nature.”
In 2014, both Kaminskiy’s biotech prediction for the coming year as well as his longevity industry prediction for 2017 were controversial. What is now clear in 2016 was not clear in 2014, even to an audience as enthusiastic as scientists at the forefront of the geroscience community. However, his prediction for the 2015 biotech sector panned out, and in light of recent developments in the nascent rejuvenation biotechnology industry, his prediction for 2017 may have actually been even a little bit too conservative, as large pre-revenue investments as indicated by Unity Biotechology have indicated.
The Rise of the Longevity Industry
The true beginning of the longevity industry's emergence began with the formation of Calico, an independent R&D biotech company established in 2013 by Google Inc. and CEO Arthur D. Levinson. Calico received an investment of $250 million dollars from the pharmaceutical company AbbVie, matched by Google, with the option for AbbVie to contribute an additional $500 million dollars at a later date. Because both investments will be matched by Google, this deal is worth a possible $1.5 billion. This was followed by the announcement of Google Life Sciences, later renamed Verily, an R&D organization dedicated to accelerating advancements in the life sciences industry.
Times magazine published Can Google Solve Death? with the subtitle “The search giant is launching a venture to extend the human life span. That would crazy - if it weren’t Google.” After this publication a number of very popular, credible publications began featuring articles that took the topic seriously, signaling a larger shift in the public perception.
Then, Time Magazine issued an additional article “This baby could live to be 142 years old.”
It was with the aim of getting the ball rolling on the emerging longevity industry that Dmitry Kaminskiy announced a $1 million prize for the first person to reach the age of 123 - just 6 months longer than the current record holder, Jeanne Calment, who achieved 122 years and 6 months age.
It was also in light of that Kaminskiy and Alex Zhavoronkov made a $1 million bet to see who would live the longest, in which the longest-lived of the two would owe the other $1 million in Insilico Medicine stock, ( a leading company working at the intersection of AI and longevity).
This was, however, more than just a bet; it was a competition meant to inspire and fuel others, as well as themselves, into helping the Longevity Industry hatch from its egg. "I would really like to make similar bets with Bill Gates, Elon Musk or Mark Zuckerberg so they could live longer lives and create great products, but I don't think they are worthy competitors on longevity yet, but I would like to challenge Sergey Brin and Larry Page to a similar competition due to their seemingly high interest in the sphere and Calico project." said Kaminskiy in his interview to Gizmodo.
The second big deal signalling the emergence of a true longevity industry came with the formation of Human Longevity Inc., founded in 2013 by J. Craig Venter and Peter Diamandis with the goal of creating the most comprehensive database on human genotypes and phenotypes, and then applying statistical genetic, bioinformatics, and data mining algorithms to them in order to better characterize the genetic and phenotypic basis of age-related disease. The company received a $80 million Series A financing in 2014 and a $220 million Series B financing in April 2016, and has established partnerships with Celgene and AstraZeneca. This is a landmark amount of financing for a company without any actual product pipeline focusing on longevity research and development, something that was not so long ago considered incredibly risky and intractable by the economic and investment communities.
In 2013, in his bestselling book The Ageless Generation: How Advances in Biomedicine Will Transform the Global Economy, Dr. Alex Zhavoronkov said “The majority of politicians and the general public are unaware of the tremendous potential benefits of regenerative medicine. They fail to grasp the profound implications that extended longevity could have on the global economy, on their respective nation’s economic survival, and on their own lifespan and health.” Thankfully, while the latter part of his statement remains as true as ever, the former part does not. As time goes on more and more politicians as well as the general public are increasingly aware of the social and economic benefits of geroscience.
Geroscience & Longevity Have Become Mainstream
What’s more is that life extension now has become a palatable, realistic possibility and subject of discussion in the eyes of the public as well. Mainstream media have began to publish articles that took the topic seriously.
But as little as a few years ago the longevity community was dominated by social activists (e.g. transhumanists) and had a dearth of actual scientists who treated the topic seriously; to conduct longevity science was considered taboo at best and career-poisoning at worst, and too fringe and unfounded to be fruitful. Today longevity science has become not only non-taboo, but mainstream and trendy, and we have seen a profusion of scientists enter the field.
A testament to this trend was the "What If You Are Still Alive in 2100?" panel session at the World Economic Forum's Annual Meeting in Davos in January 2016. If the topic of longevity science is being discussed at the World Economic Forum it is the evidence of a Big Paradigm Shift. From 2013 onward, both popular, credible and even policy-making publications and conferences began to take the topic seriously. Indeed, the upcoming The Economist Aging Societies 2016 panel discussion in London and the Business of Longevity conference in San Francisco could be considered a culmination of this trend toward trendiness and becoming part of the mainstream flow of events, because The Economist is a conservative and influential publication, signaling that even the most conservative outlets are beginning to take this topic seriously.
The most recent sign that a true Longevity Industry is emerging comes from Unity Biotechnologies, which raised $116M series B from VenRock, ARCH Venture Partners, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, and others in October of 2016. Unity is developing drugs from the Mayo Clinic and Buck Institute for Research on Aging to delete or selectively ablate damaged, old cells called senescent cells. Research based on this drug class, called senolytics, has increased healthy lifespan in mice by 30%.
“The upcoming Aging Societies 2016 forum of The Economist in London on November 29-30 2016 and the similar Business of Longevity conference on December 7th 2016 signals the increasing interest in longevity science among investors and economists and is a testament to how trendy and, indeed, even mainstream the topic is becoming. This conference is important for the future of the Longevity Industry because The Economist is a very conservative and very policy-making journal, and the outlook of the industry that is presented by The Economist could have a large impact on the overall outlook of the industry’s future by investors and economists. It is therefore imperative that analysis that take place on the future of the industry is realistic, giving due concern not only to the real opportunities from both an economic and humanitarian standpoint, but also to the real concerns and risks that the industry faces as well” - said Dmitry Kaminskiy, managing trustee of Biogerontology Research Foundation and senior partner of Deep Knowledge Ventures.
“This trend of longevity science and longevity-oriented life-sciences startups becoming mainstream also signals a coming paradigm shift from treatment of the symptoms of disease in a palliative and ineffective way toward the actual treatment of the underlying biological root cause of such diseases at their very source - a shift away from treatment and toward prevention. Preventative medicine extends beyond longevity therapies, but longevity therapies is leading the front of this paradigm shift because it seeks to treat the root cause and largest risk factor for what is increasingly becoming the most prevalent category of disease afflicting humanity today, namely age-related disease. The treatment of age-related disease at its source, aging itself, is going to be the biggest thing to happen to healthcare since sanitation, in terms of improved clinical outcomes for some of the most quantitatively prevalent diseases afflicting humanity today” said Franco Cortese, Deputy Director of the Biogerontology Research Foundation.
Opportunities & Risks
“There are a great many opportunities to be had in the emerging Longevity Industry. There are almost unlimited economic gains to be made in the prevention of the impending economic crisis related to the increase in the aging demographic of developed countries. Developing countries cannot sustainably continue government-funded care of the elderly demographic using the approaches they use now once that aging demographic surpasses a certain portion of the population. To do so would result in economic collapse. The only viable options are to stop funding end-of-life palliative care for the elderly demographic entirely, or to turn to more effective and economically-sustainable treatment options, such as the treatment of their shared underlying cause, biological aging” said Alex Zhavoronkov, trustee and CSO of Biogerontology Research Foundation and CEO of Insilico Medicine.
“Such opportunities are also counterbalanced by real risks and concerns, and in order to successfully avoid and mitigate these risks the geroscience community needs to have a more active presence in the emerging Longevity Industry and to participate in doing due diligence on emerging longevity startups in order to avoid some of the same mistakes that stalled progress in other life sciences and biomedical sectors due to hype and making goals and outcomes that could not be realistically realized, taking overly-large risks and not having sufficient foresight regarding the consequences of failure. In particular, problems and lack of sufficient assurance of safety in stem cell clinical trials helped set the regenerative medicine field back for years, and the death of Jesse Gelsinger set the gene therapy field back at least a decade. These incidents set a bad image for their entire respective industries and stalled potential progress. Those involved in the emerging Longevity Industry should take care to learn from these mistakes and to avoid repeating them,” said Joao Pedro de Magalhães, trustee of Biogerontology Research Foundation and senior lecturer at the Institute of Ageing and Chronic Disease of the Liverpool University.
Federal drug regulatory agencies like the FDA are a necessity and do good in keeping medical progress safe, but at times their bureaucracy stalls medical progress. The geroscience community should take initiative to evaluate possible projects before the FDA and voice their consolidated opinion of its safety and neutralize dangerous or overly-risky projects before they reach the stage of FDA applications so as to protect the health of the budding Longevity Industry and avoid the mistakes that were made in other fields.
On December 2015 Dmitry Kaminskiy participated in the Cambridge conference "Opportunities and Risks in Exponential Growth of Biotech Science.” Together with professors of Cambridge University Chris Law and Derek Smith they discussed the topic “Bioscience technologies have the power to build or destroy a world of abundance. Leveraging entrepreneurial opportunities whilst avoiding catastrophic risk is a balancing act with potentially fatal consequences."
“Longevity-oriented start-ups, if successful, could bolster continuing increases in funding in the Longevity Industry and facilitate its ongoing growth. However, early failures due to over-funding and over-valuation of over-hyped technologies and therapeutic approaches could turn the Longevity Industry into little more than a longevity bubble. Similarly, taking unnecessary risks in an attempt to accelerate progress in the industry, such as proceeding with clinical trials on longevity therapies without sufficient evaluation of safety and efficacy in preclinical trials, could result in unintended human deaths and side effects, which could poison future growth in the industry. As the dawn of the Longevity Industry is confidently visible on the horizon, it is these challenges and risks that should be analyzed and mitigated while the real opportunities are fostered and nurtured, so as to create a landscape of realistic opportunity rather than one of unrealistic promise and potential” continued Kaminskiy.
Maintaining the Health & Longevity of the Longevity Industry
In light of this goal, i.e. for a more balanced and realistic overview of the future of the Longevity Industry, the Biogerontology Research Foundation would like to highlight several potential issues and concerns with regard to the health and longevity of the dawning Longevity Industry. In particular, we recommend a much greater level of involvement of the geroscience community in the evaluation of new longevity biotechnology and pharmaceuticals industry start-ups in order to avoid a Longevity Industry bubble and subsequent stigma with regards to the future potential and viability of longevity-related ventures formed after the collapse of such a bubble. Because investment in the biotechnology and life science sectors require a greater deal of technical expertise in order to successfully assess the viability and achievability of new ventures than other sectors, there exists greater potential for big fails and an ensuing bubble. In a similar vein, there exists greater potential for over-promising or over-hyped ventures to receive large investments in place of ventures that are more realistic but that don’t over-promise and over-hype in a similar fashion, which also contributes to an economic climate that is more susceptible to growth rates beyond achievability and financial success, in turn further exacerbating the potential for a bubble to form and burst.
A similar potential problem we foresee is insufficient harmonization of funding throughout the sector. If a limited number of ventures pursuing a specific line of research and development within the larger field of biomedical gerontology receive disproportionate funding at the expense of other ventures pursuing equally promising lines of research that do not happen to be as hot or trendy at the moment as other approaches, or that put forward more realistic expectations in terms of results, returns, product pipeline and clinical translation timelines than others who over-hype and over-promise in order to ascertain larger amounts of funding, then the potential failure of these ventures to deliver on their promises could spell disaster for the industry outlook on other ventures in the future. The safest way forward is to hedge our collective bets and to as best as possible harmonize the overall distribution of funding so that the failure one a few large, well-funded longevity ventures to not poison the industry for other ventures pursuing less trendy or less hyped research directions and agendas that are backed by distinct scientific and therapeutic foundations. The best way forward in this goal is to maximize the amount of due-diligence on emerging ventures put forward by the geroscience community, to decrease investment opportunities for over-hyped ventures and for ventures that are not backed by sufficiently proven and verified science (e.g. basic science, preclinical results, etc.), to increase investment opportunities for ventures that are backed by solid science and solid preclinical results but that fail to over-hype, over-promise, or to exploit current trendy or hot areas of research independently of an evaluation of their real scientific and clinical potential of their chosen research direction with respect to other existing and emerging research directions in biomedical gerontology.
An additional potential problem is the pursuit of research directions that have not been sufficiently evaluated in terms of safety in preclinical studies. This is another area of potential concern that would benefit from increased input and pre-implementation vetting by the larger geroscience community in order to decrease investment opportunities for clinical trials evaluating products and therapies that (a) have not been sufficiently evaluated in terms of safety in the preclinical setting, (b) are aiming to proceed with overly-large scale Phase I clinical trials without verifying safety on a smaller human cohort first, or (c) that are based upon inherently risky therapeutic modalities. In light of these concerns, it is imperative that we witness a consolidation of the geroscience community, and we explore options relating to the formation of a suitable platform or framework that allows the geroscience community to react to developments in the Longevity Industry in a more dynamic and effective way.
In light of these rising trends and concerns, Biogerontology Research Foundation Managing Trustee Dmitry Kaminskiy and Biogerontology Research Foundation Chief Science Officer Alex Zhavoronkov will be attending the Aging Societies 2016 forum at the London “The Economist” Conference on November 29-30th to participate in discussions on opportunities and concerns in the emerging Longevity Industry, where Kaminskiy will be participating in a panel discussion on the topic of investments in Longevity and Alex Zhavoronkov will participate panel “Scanning the horizon—towards human longevity and economic prosperity”. Additionally, leading up to this event the Biogerontology Research Foundation is aiding in and collaborating on the preparation of a Longevity Industry analytical report for distribution at the Ageing Societies 2016 conference on November 29th and 30th, to be available for reading online, aiming to highlight the history, current status and realistic future potential of the industry. In a similar vein, we are announcing the commencement of a very early-stage project that will evaluate optimal platforms and frameworks for collaboration between the academic geroscience community and longevity institutes and initiatives in both the commercial and non-profit spheres so as to promote optimal evaluation of emerging projects, ventures, and specific industry sectors within the larger emerging longevity biotechnology industry, with the aim of preventing big fails in the industry before they occur so as to avoid to as great an extent as possible the formation of an industry climate poised for the creation and collapse of a Longevity Industry bubble. The ultimate goal of this project will be to put forward a policy and position report on the factors that inform the most optimal platform and framework to support such industry-academic vetting, due-diligence and consultation.
For the benefit of the Longevity Industry’s health and longevity, it is time for the geroscience community themselves, and not just investors and politicians, to make a dedicated step forward in fostering a realistic environment allowing for the real maturation of the Longevity Industry in a healthy and balanced way, with a clear view of the real opportunities and risks that the industry faces, in order to allow it to truly come of age.