Silicon Valley is chasing the fountain of youth

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Human aging is the latest and greatest area to be disrupted by technology.

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big picture: Work on therapeutics that can slow or even stop the aging process is going off the edge and into the mainstream, fueled by funding from tech billionaires who have one thing left to conquer: death.

  • Don’t start planning for immortality just yet.

What are you saying: Earlier this month, the MIT Technology Review story broke of the formation of Alto Labs, a new startup that hired some of the best scientists in anti-aging research with million-dollar salaries funded by tech giants like Yuri Milner and Jeff Bezos.

  • Alto Labs joins an increasingly crowded space of well-funded startups — including Calico Labs, which spun off from Google in 2013 with the backing of founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin — that are looking directly at the biological science of aging. Want to attack the process.
  • “The whole area of ​​longevity is coming to the fore because we’re really developing strategies that feel investable both from a venture capitalist perspective and from a pharma perspective,” says James Peir, CEO of anti-aging startup Cambrian Biopharma.
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By numbers: according to a recent surveyThe global value of drugs claiming to reverse aging was estimated to be approximately $8 billion in 2020, and is projected to double by 2027.

Hunt: There are a lot of non-prescription treatments that are meant to increase longevity, but not a single new drug has been approved to specifically treat the aging process.

  • Some animal experiments have yielded promising results, but even the start of human clinical trials on new treatments has proved elusive.
  • There’s an obvious reason for this: as New Yorker writer Tad Friend written in one piece On Anti-Aging Companies in 2017, “It’s hard to run clinical trials on subjects who take eighty years to die.”
  • “If you get an experimental drug and I get a placebo, how long will we have to wait to see aging slow down?” Peer says. Nor does it help that the FDA “doesn’t recognize aging as a disease,” he says.
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Between the lines: To overcome that hurdle, companies such as Cambrian are focusing on better understanding the biological signs of aging, such as cellular wear and tear or mutations in mitochondrial DNA, which are known to cause patients to die in clinical trials. Can be measured without waiting for – or not.

  • Scientists are trying to identify what a person’s biological clock is — how young the body really is — rather than chronological age — and then look for treatments that slow that clock or wind it backwards.
  • Cambrian, for example, is working on the treatment of a rare form of childhood muscular dystrophy under the hypothesis that injecting healthy young muscle stem cells into major muscles “could help prevent weakness in old age,” says Peir. it is said.

another startup A company called Loyal is trying to short-circuit the problem of clinical trials by studying anti-aging treatments in dogs that, as Celine Haliua, 27, founder and CEO, notes, “have their own benefits compared to humans.” Lifespan is too short.”

  • This is unfortunate for dogs and their owners, but it means “you can really see if an intervention extends lifespan and delays the onset of disease relatively early in their lives, and there is clearly a drug for this.” develops,” she says.

Be smart: Companies like Cambrian and Loyal are more interested in extending the “health span”—the number of years a person can enjoy a healthy, active life—not just the lifespan.

  • Such drugs would not allow us to live at or near that forever, but they would have tremendous social and financial benefits.
  • Of the $3.65 trillion Americans spent on health care in 2018 10% went into end-of-life care, and the country is always on its way to getting older, those numbers are only likely to grow without dramatic intervention.

what to watch: However, some researchers and companies are even more ambitious.

  • Both Alto and Calico are reportedly focusing on biological reprogramming, a way to rejuvenate cells and revitalize the entire body—an approach that could actually represent the fountain of youth if it worked. However, this procedure has so far only been tried in animals with mixed success. .
  • At the far end of science-fiction, some in the field believe that the ultimate solution to mortality may lie in upgrading the human body with machine parts, and eventually uploading the brain to the cloud. Might – a kind of Dropbox of the soul.
  • “We have LASIK surgery,” says Tyler Hayes, CEO of Atom Limbs, which makes AI-controlled prostheses. “Why not continue to replace it with whole body parts?”

Bottom-line: Father Time is undefeated, and is likely to remain so. But the billions flowing into anti-aging research could one day at least escalate the battle.

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