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I have been slacking on conference reports these past few months, but largely because the conferences I was attending were not wholly dedicated to longevity science or the longevity industry. I was at BASEL Life in Switzerland, where Alex Zhavoronkov and the In Silico Medicine crew had taken over a section of the broader conference to talk about aging, at the Founders Forum events in New York and Boston, where one will find a handful of influential people from outside our community who are interested in longevity, and LSX USA, a Boston biotech industry gathering. This week I was attending Giant Health in London, where the Aikora Health principals and Liz Parrish of BioViva Science organized a longevity-focused gathering within the much larger event.
Once one steps out of the circle of events dedicated to our community, such as Undoing Aging, Ending Age-Related Diseases, Longevity Therapeutics, and so forth, it is quite striking to see just how much more work there is left to do in terms of telling people that we exist. That there is a rejuvenation research community, that there are a few score startup biotech companies developing ways to treat aging, that the first rejuvenation therapies already exist in the form of senolytics, and they are pretty impressive so far in comparison to all other past approaches to age-related disease.
At BASEL Life, most of the people I talked to were scientists from diverse areas in the life sciences, and they had no real idea that upheaval was underway in the treatment of aging. At Founders Forum in Boston I moderated a panel of folk from the longevity industry (Doug Ethell of Leucadia Therapeutics, David Gobel of the Methuselah Foundation, Carolina Reis of OneSkin Technologies, and James Clement of Betterhumans), to talk about why matters are proceeding more slowly than we’d all like. The information that there was a longevity industry, that this was a thing that actually existed, was news to nearly everyone in the room. At LSX USA, also in Boston, I talked to a number of broader biotech industry CEOs and venture partners who were similarly politely interested to find out that rejuvenation therapies exist, are under development, and there is about to be a great up-ending of business as usual in the treatment of aging.
For that last crowd, I think the point is that nothing really exists to their eyes until there are a few companies with approved therapies. The longevity industry is still in phase I trials, more or less. Repurposing of existing drugs for longevity, such as dasatinib (potentially very beneficial) and metformin (definitely not) isn’t on the radar of venture funds. Similarly for the possibility that some supplements or plant extracts are meaningfully senolytic, such as fisetin or piperlongumine. This is all inside baseball to the mainstream biotech industry until phase III trials have happened and at least a few companies with FDA approved drugs are trading on the stock exchanges. Or at least until the principals of some Big Pharma entity decide they want a seat at the longevity industry table and start buying companies with phase I or phase II successes.
People like Kelsey Moody of Ichor Therapeutics and Jim Mellon of Juvenescence quite explicitly see this as the big next step in the development of this industry. Currently the bulk of the biotech industry, however you want to characterize it, as Big Pharma, as major established venture funds, and so forth, doesn’t know and doesn’t care about the longevity industry. Part of the point of building a new industry of startup biotech companies is to change this fact. In the bigger picture, we are not doing this to produce a handful of therapies, though they will certainly be helpful, but rather to convince the broader industry in the only way it can be convinced, by succeeding in the production of therapies that have meaningful results in aging and age-related disease. Do this, and the floodgates of funding and resources will truly open.
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