Scientists, entrepreneurs and technologists are converging on the anti-aging market as investment firepower and cutting-edge research seeks to navigate an ethical minefield and redefine the parameters of a normal human life.
Worldwide, humans are living longer. The global population aged 60+ is estimated to reach 1.4 billion by 2030, compared to a billion today. It is expected to double to 2.1 billion by 2050. Globally, life expectancy has increased by more than 6 years between 2000 and 2019 – from 66.8 years to 73.4 - but a growing number of investors, innovators and scientists are asking how humankind can bend the curve further still. Since 2015, 75 companies with a primary focus on longevity - or anti-aging - have raised a collective $12.5B to fund research into extending the length and quality of natural life. With the Jeff Besos-backed Altos Labs and Alphabet spin-off Calico Labs leading the charge, some of the world’s richest organizations are increasingly focused on lowering biological age and arresting (and ultimately reversing) the natural decay of human cells.
Longevity firms are centered on cellular rejuvenation, expediting drug discovery and the impact of behavioral habits on biological age
A focus on the extension of life is frequently associated with billionaires - both in fiction and in reality. However, the questions being asked by the Longevity community have widespread implications beyond the world’s richest individuals. Although a greater proportion of the aging population are currently in high-income countries, by 2050, it is estimated that two-thirds of the world's aging population will be in low- and middle-income countries. Despite life expectancy increasing overall 2000-2019, the World Health Organization’s measure of healthy life expectancy (HALE) shows that the increase in top-line age (6.6 years) outpaced HALE (5.4 years). In other words, we may be living longer but not necessarily living well for longer.
Efforts to influence both lifespan and quality of life are complex and difficult to control - and controversial from a regulatory and ethical standpoint. However a range of companies are making strides towards these goals. Outside of the Billionaire-backed laboratories there are a number of (predominantly life-sciences-focused) pure Longevity plays seeking to turn therapeutic advances into patient-ready products (the top 75 of these can be viewed here on the HolonIQ platform).
Headquartered in the Isle of Man (in the Irish Sea between England and Ireland), Juvenescence has raised in excess of $200M to advance its prescription drugs and consumer products for age management, disease prevention and enhanced metabolic efficiency. The team includes an array of industry big hitters, including former global head of drug development at Pfizer Dr Declan Doogan. AgeX Therapeuics is targeting tissue regeneration technologies and after five rounds of funding is now listed on the NYSE. The firm states it is attempting to “crack the code of cellular immortality”, which translates into a focus on small molecule drug delivery systems, stem cell research and a field of research called telomerase (DNA-level cellular rejuvenation). Backed from an early stage by Peter Thiel (co-founder of PayPal, Palantir Technologies) Unity Biotechnology raised close to $300M before its IPO in May 2018. Initially founded in 2009, the company has been a prominent player in the Longevity market through its focus on senescent cells (where a cell ages and permanently stops dividing but does not die). The company’s valuation took a hit in 2020 after its first major study delivered underwhelming results. Insilico Medicine is based in Hong Kong and is focused on the application of AI technologies to accelerate traditional drug discovery pathways. The company both provides services to the pharma industry and conducts its own in-house research focused on cancer, fibrosis, Alzheimer’s Disease and aging. Its June 2021 $255M Series C funding round attracted a galaxy of investment powerhouses. Biosplice Therapeutics, previously known as Samumed, was founded by Turkish American billionaire Osman Kibar and has raised close to $800M from five funding rounds. Focused on tissue-level regeneration to treat aging related diseases, Biosplice states its mission is to “restore human health via novel therapies that use alternative splicing”.
Mapping the Longevity landscape
The manipulation of scientific pathways to lead to new treatments is not a pursuit that is exclusive to the Longevity market. Defining what constitutes ‘Longevity’ - as opposed to traditional clinical research - is still a subjective matter, although most in the industry recognize the framework provided by anti-aging academics in 2013 based around the “nine hallmarks of aging”. The hallmarks set out the biological processes that contribute to how we age and ultimately those in the Longevity sector are developing therapeutics or technologies that target one or more of these domains. Typically, these solutions focus either on the prevention of damage that causes aging; the early identification of damage caused by aging; the treatment of damage as a result of aging or the reversal of damage that has occurred. These initiatives can be broken down further into three main areas of focus...