Imagine a world where the average life expectancy is well over 100 years (and doesn’t involve spending 30 years in a care home). Imagine a world where — thanks to scientific findings made over the last five years — there’s a cure for ageing.
This is the future investors in the space of longevity are betting on. And increasingly so.
Today, a new $100m fund with a focus on longevity is being launched by Korify Capital, an investment leg of Swiss family office Infinitas Capital. It joins several others investing in defeating age, including Berlin-based VC and company builder Apollo Health Ventures, which closed a $180m fund in November, Swiss company builder Maximon, which launched a CHF100m (€96m) fund a few months ago, and Switzerland's Longevity Science Foundation, which has committed to distributing $1bn to longevity projects over the next 10 years.
“I think there is a lot of opportunity in making 70 the new 50, so to speak. And that includes tackling the chronic diseases that are among the biggest killers of humanity,” says Robin Lauber, cofounder of Infinitas Capital.
But what, exactly, are they investing in?
What is hot in longevity?
According to Apollo Health venture partner Jan Adams, several areas are taking off at the moment: Covid has helped increase general interest in the field but the main catalyst is the way we can now analyse vast data sets with machine learning and AI.
“It has been accelerating over the last, I'd say, three to five years really — capturing the data, generating the data, making sense of the data, interpreting the data — and that's contributing to many areas of longevity research,” Adams says.
Adams mentions genomics, proteomics and metabolomics — for the layman, let’s just call it analysis of cells. According to the 2013 scientific report The Hallmarks of Ageing, which many use as a research baseline, dying and cancer have the same underlying process — the accumulation of cellular damage.
One of the key reasons why we age is that the protective caps at the end of our chromosomes, called telomeres, shorten over time. When they fully disintegrate, it causes our DNA to become damaged and therefore our cells stop replicating.
Another reason is that when our cells have divided a maximum amount of times, they turn into zombie-like "senescent" cells that prevent the regeneration of new cells.
With recent technological advancements, data analysis now exists that can help stop this from happening at a natural speed.
And although there are a lot of studies on how to make this commercially attractive and interesting for investors and scientists alike, many of the companies in this space are unlikely to be a quick win for investors.
“The low-hanging fruit is really the metformin [a medicine used for Type 2 diabetes shown to have positive effects on ageing] and Rapamycin data and all these anecdotal evidence-based compounds which are being tested in long term and adequately powered studies now,” Adams says.
Supplements like metformin, melatonin, NMN and resveratrol have become well-known in some circles and could supposedly be used to cut years to our biological age. So it’s not strange that the supplement space in the US has exploded in the last few years — and in Europe, things are just about to take off.
I think there is a lot of opportunity in making 70 the new 50
Maximon, the Swiss longevity company builder founded by Marc P. Bernegger and three other business people, is launching its first company next week, a startup called Avea, that will sell supplements focusing on longevity-related ingredients.
“As a company builder, we have financed everything with our own money so far. So at this stage, we have a low-hanging fruit approach and want to start businesses where we have ideally really short paths to revenue,” Bernegger says.
But what happened to other crazy ideas like the 3D-printed organs and blood transfusions that were both satirised and admired in TV series such as Silicon Valley?
Is blood transfusion a likely longevity product?
Well, blood transfusion as an idea to prolong life is actually not dead — although the US Food and Drug Administration issued a warning about plasma infusions in 2019. US-based biotech company Ambrosia still offers infusions of blood plasma from young donors to older people and says it found “statistically significant improvements in biomarkers” in those people.
And there are VCs involved. One of them is Apollo Health.
“We think there is sufficient scientific evidence that this [plasma transfusion] might be an avenue to explore,” says Adams. “We look at this to understand the mechanism behind it — making it a potential target for our venture creation activities.”
Whether 3D-printed organs will become a hot new niche remains to be seen.
“At a certain age our organs, similar to a car, cannot be repaired anymore, and maybe have to be literally replaced. And then I would say, we will need additional longevity-related elements. But honestly, I think a lot of these developments are still a little bit too far away to say when and if they are going to happen,” Bernegger says.