Figuring out what to work on in the longevity field
Exploring the complexities of the longevity field to uncover opportunities for advancing healthy lifespan: a high level guide for newcomers
Aging is a set of molecular and cellular processes that affects us all, but what if we could extend our healthy lifespan and live longer, healthier lives? This is the goal of the rapidly growing field of longevity. And after my last post about leaving my CTO job to work on longevity a lot of people have reached out asking what I'm working on actually? What I'm building for longevity? The short answer is... nothing. Yet. The long answer is... well, this post.
My end goal is to accelerate the longevity field. But I'm the new kid in town and it's going to take me a minute to clearly understand where my skills and interests converge with what the aging field needs.
The longevity field is young and complex, much like a solar system in its early days. Most attempts to map any aspect of it will look both like oversimplification and overengineering. But I've spent the past weeks talking with many people (scientists, investors and founders) and I've mapped, at a high level, what I (or anyone really) could work on in the longevity field: research, funding, talent, media, practical applications, therapeutics and infrastructure for the field. If you think something is missing, feedback is more than welcomed, so contact me.
Almost everything we know about longevity comes from academic institutions and organizations dedicated to advancing our understanding of the biological and physiological processes underlying aging. If you're a scientist at heart and want to push that even further, some options are:
- Academia → many universities and academic institutions around the world have dedicated aging research centers like The Buck Institute for Research on Aging or Max Planck Institute for the Biology of Aging. Check out here more than 300 labs around the world focused on aging
- Focused Research Organisations → there are also organizations dedicated solely to the study of aging and longevity. Maybe the greatest example is SRF Research Center from the SENS research foundation
In academic environments, scientists usually have more freedom to pursue their own ideas, and the support to carry out long projects. The approach is often more cautious and methodical, but it usually leads to deeper knowledge.
$6.96 billion was raised across 96 funding rounds in 2022. This may seem like a lot but it's actually nothing. Remember that Instagram was acquired for $1 billion. So trying to bring more funding to the longevity field is very much needed. A few options:
- Start a fund → maybe a small one, focused on pre-seed and seed startups
- Join a fund → like Healthspan Capital, The Longevity Fund, Longevity Tech Fund or Fifty Years
- Start or join a web3 startup → like VitaDAO which is funding and advancing longevity research in an open and democratic manner
- Start a non profit → like Impetus Grants, the Longevity Science Foundation or Forever Healthy
Those passionate about funding will benefit from skills in finance, investment, and entrepreneurship. It can be valuable to have experience in evaluating startup companies, developing investment strategies, and managing financial portfolios. Also, gaining knowledge of the longevity field, its market, and its trends will for sure help identify promising startups and initiatives.
The way we get better outcomes faster is by having more people testing different hypothesis. Someone needs to help talented people transition into the field. And believe me, we need far, far more people working on longevity. A few options:
- Recruiting → a good example would be leveraging network in tech to help fill positions at longevity biotech startups
- Community building → amazing examples are Longevity Biotech Fellowship , Longevity Global, and Norm Group's Talent Bridge
People passionate about recruiting, community building, and networking are ideal for helping to bring more amazing people to work on longevity. Building an extensive network and connecting talented people with opportunities is important. Some experience in creating communities and programs that can attract and retain is super valuable.
The narrative around longevity is changing towards a more strategic conservatism which is proving to have better adoption. But it's far away from reaching a mainstream level. We need more communicators designing and evolving new narratives for different people. A few options:
- Awareness & Advocacy → great examples are podcasts and newsletters like Rhonda Patrick's Found My Fitness, Peter Attia's The Drive or The Buck Institute's We're not getting any younger... yet which have reached millions of people. Some people have published their own books on aging like Andrew Steele with Ageless and Nicklas Brendborg with Jellyfish Age Backwards
- Political advocacy → one good example is The Alliance for Longevity Initiatives which has the goal of creating social and political action around the issues of combating age-related chronic conditions and increasing our number of healthy, disease-free years
- Reporting → I personally love what lifespan.io and Spannr are doing each in their own style
- Education → one great example is Longevity Degree which tries to propagate evidence-based aging research into clinical practice
Being able to communicate scientific concepts in simple and engaging ways to a general audience is super helpful. People passionate about storytelling, communication, writing, marketing, building an audience and growing a following to make an impact are ideal to improve the adoption of new narratives about longevity.
I try to live my life maximising my chances of benefitting from the future results of longevity biotech research. There are plenty of products that try to push disease as late in life as possible and I'm a user of many of them. And starting or working for startups that develop such products may be the fastest way to join the longevity field. Some options:
- Biomarkers tracking and lifestyle interventions → either glucose, CO2, bloodwork, microbiome, DNA SNPs, inflammation, telomeres, DNA methylation and even whole body scans. The data is then used to provide personalized health analysis and dynamic, science-backed guidance to help people optimize their lifestyle for longevity
- Longevity clinics and schools → good examples are Peter Attia's practice (for premium customers), Years (high tech health centers focusing on Medicine 3.0) or Rx Longevity (for seniors). These can be either physical or digital. These emphasize the integration of technology and data into the practice of medicine, and aim to deliver more personalized and effective care
- Supplements → Novos Labs, Elisium, Juevenescence, Kutanios or Time Line Nutrition are just some of the many startups focused on supplements marketed towards longevity
- B2B2C platforms → usually targeted at physicians who work on preventive programs with their patients. Some nice examples are Hearty and Biolytica
- Wearables → startups like Biolinq and Oura offer devices that track various health markers and provide personalized insights and recommendations
All these options contribute to the evolution of the current focus of our health: from curative to preventive. Sadly, we're still very far but we have the chance to use technology and data to deliver more personalized and effective care, involve patients in their own health, and ultimately improve the overall quality and efficiency of the healthcare system. This evolution will be challenging and will require many talented and passionate people. Most startups working on practical longevity need people with skills in product design, software engineering, data science, and marketing. Experience in developing products and services that improve health and wellness, designing user interfaces, analyzing data, and creating effective marketing strategies are also super valuable.
The drug discovery process is absurdly complex involving several stages: identifying biological targets, screening potential drugs, refining and optimizing lead compounds, conducting laboratory and animal studies, and testing in human subjects. If the results of clinical trials are positive, the drug can be submitted for regulatory approval and, if approved, manufactured and marketed for use in treating a specific disease or condition. The goal of these drugs is to target the underlying mechanisms of aging to extend healthy lifespan and revolutionize the way we think about aging and health.
The first drug targeted to extend healthy lifespan by 10-20 years could be developed and commercialized this decade. And one of the startups in this questionable map will probably do it:
Each and every one of these companies are using different technologies to address one or more hallmarks of aging:
- Stem cells → like Cellino doing AI guided laser editing of stem cells for regenerative medicine. Or like Celularity which is developing allogeneic placenta-derived stem cells
- Peptides → like Cleara developing an improved FOXO4-DRI peptide senolytic. Or like OneSkin developing a senolytic peptide for cosmetic and therapeutic use
- Small molecules → like Samsara enhancing autophagy. Or like Cyclarity developing cyclodextrin drugs to block 7-ketocholesterol to treat heart disease
- Monoclonal antibodies → like Arda clearing pathological cells with immunotherapy modalities
- Gene therapy → like Altos Lab ("not a longevity biotech startup 😉") focused on cellular rejuvenation programming to restore cell health and resilience. Or like Matter Bio developing gene therapy to stimulate cardiac tissue regeneration. Or like Centaura developing artificial human chromosomes
- Cell therapy → like Vita working on iPSC-derived cell therapy for muscle dystrophy and muscle regeneration. Or like LyGenesis working on liver regeneration via lymph node bioreactor
- Mitochondrial transfer → like Mitrix working on whole body mitochondrial transfer. Or like Cellvie pioneering Therapeutic Mitochondria Transplantation for ischemia-reperfusion injury
- Enzymes → like Revel developing enzymes that degrade glucosepane crosslink. Or like
- mRNA → like turn.bio developing epigenetic reprogramming with mRNA
- Replacement tissues → like Humacyte engineering vascular and other tissues
The variety of technologies available can be daunting. I'll dive deeper into all of them in next posts. But the complexity of the field doesn't end here. Other noticeable startups have interesting but quite different approaches:
- Loyal → developing drugs targeted at aging for dogs 🐶
- Retro Biosciences → cellular reprogramming, autophagy & plasma-inspired therapeutics
- BioAge → mapping human aging (human biomarkers) to develop a pipeline of therapies that treat disease and extend healthy lifespan
- Ora Biomedical → using a robotic fleet 🤖 to do high-throughput phenotyping with combination drugs in C. elegans
- New Limit → developing epigenetic reprogramming medicines to treat diseases with large unmet needs
- Rejuveron → co-founding startups and supporting pioneers in the field of aging to transform their scientific discoveries into medicines
- Cambrian → working with top-tier academic institutions to create Cambrian Affiliate Companies (Affiliates) across the US and Europe
- NeuroAge → brain rejuvenation discovery platform based on post-mortem brain samples
- Fauna → drug discovery from animal genomics and AI
Aging therapeutics usually means getting the science out of the lab. So most often than not, someone with biology background will try to start or join a startup around their expertise. But what about people who are not coming from academia? The reality is that it may take anything from 6 months to 1 year (maybe even more) of full dedication to gain enough context, map the gaps, understand low hanging fruits, understand which technologies are the most promising, and get in love with a strong hypothesis to join or build a startup around it.
This is the hardest part: in an ocean of possibilities, which one to choose? which one is the most interesting? what technology is the most promising? what are the low hanging fruits? For the past weeks I've been asking these questions to experts in the field (PhDs and longevity biotech founders). And the hard truth is that there are no easy or right answers because unique insights take years, follow curiosity, and are non-linear.
Another option is to just focus on the culture of the startup or on finding a cofounder; independently of the technology they're working on. For some people, it may be easier to gain deep insights into the field by working with or for amazing people at least for a while.
We need to accelerate the discovery of the first drug for longevity and that will require better tools, more reliable models, more efficient pipelines and more reliable feedback loops. This may involve lab automations, processes automations, cloud labs, robotics, software, AI for drug discovery, and a huge etcetera. Some of these companies try to target the longevity biotech field specifically:
- Spring Discovery → AI tools built just for scientists making it easy to apply world-leading neural networks to experiments
- Isomorphic Labs → redefine drug discovery with the power of artificial intelligence
- Arrive Bio → applying in-vivo target screening with machine learning to age-related diseases
- Gordian → the first in vivo therapeutic screening platform to radically improve drug development for complex diseases of aging
- Insilico Medicine → combining AI and robotics for end-to-end drug discovery
While others are more generalistic:
- Formic Labs → building an operating system for science
- Cradle → helps biologists design improved proteins in record time using powerful prediction algorithms and AI design suggestions
- Cellares → a factory-in-a-box for industrial scale cell therapy manufacturing
- Mythos → infrastructure for Cell Manufacturing
- Latch → end-to-end platform for bioinformatics
a16z just published this insightful piece about what tech is for biotech which fits perfectly in the Infrastructure part.
As a newcomer, it can take anything from 6 months to 1 year (or maybe more) of full dedication to gain enough context, map how scientists work in their day to day, learn the most common bottlenecks and problems in the labs, learn about the most common assays, map what are the most critical bits of the drug discovery pipeline, understand why feedback loops are so unreliable and how to improve them, and realize what are the low hanging fruits.
Skills in product development, software engineering, robotics, AI, and biotechnology will make starting to work on infrastructure easier and faster. And people with some experience in developing lab automations, AI for drug discovery, and robotics for cell manufacturing have an almost a zero entrance barrier.
Again, another option is to just focus on the culture of the startup or on finding a cofounder; independently of the problem they're working on. For some people, it may be easier to gain deep insights by working with or for amazing people at least for a while. Most infrastructure startups need Software Engineers, Product Designers, Electronics Engineers and a huge etcetera.
At present, there is no established regulatory pathway for approving treatments that directly target aging. So to be able to run clinical trials companies are forced to target some indication (Diabetes, Alzheimer's, Sarcopenia, etc.). This is far from ideal because it leads to a suboptimal development path for aging-related treatments, as they may be developed primarily to meet regulatory requirements rather than to address the underlying biology of aging. A few options here:
- Legal services → help companies understand the regulatory landscape, as well as how to navigate the approval process of new drugs
- Regulatory affairs → help companies establish an ongoing conversation with government agencies to determine the minimum viable evidence of whether something is affecting aging in humans
- Government agencies → go work for the FDA or the EMA, who are responsible for evaluating new therapies and ensuring that they are safe and effective for human use. This will enable the conversation to be proactive on both sides
A background in law or regulatory affairs, as well as experience working with government agencies and navigating complex regulatory frameworks, can be highly valuable for those interested in this area.
I believe that anyone can work on anything they put their mind to if they are willing to put in the time and effort to learn the necessary skills. Whether it's research, funding, talent, media, practical longevity, aging therapeutics, or infrastructure, there are numerous opportunities to make a significant impact in this field.
I'm personally interested in either aging therapeutics or infrastructure for the longevity biotech field (I'll do a deeper dive into both in next posts). Initially I was only considering starting a startup (still looking for a cofounder). But I tend to think as a software engineer: trying to push any critical decision as far in this process as possible. So now I'm also considering joining a team that is just starting.
Switching to a new field requires a constant belief that you'll eventually figure it out. But it also requires dedication, learning, talking with hundreds of people, mapping and researching. So here is what I'm personally doing to decide what to actually work on longevity:
- Joining Longevity Biotech Fellowship which is a non-profit community for people to come together to build, join, or invest in revolutionary longevity biotechnology projects
- Talking with as many longevity biotech founders as possible and trying to understand their personal challenges and the challenges of their startups
- Going deep into the biology of aging at a molecular level
- Talking with as many scientists as possible and mapping what is slowing down research in the labs
- Reading about biotech entrepreneurship: How to Build a Biotech by Celine Halioua, Building Backwards to Biotech by Stephanie A. Wisner, How to Start a Biotech Company in the Longevity Industry by Reason and Managing Biotechnology by Françoise Simon & Glen Giovannetti
- Visiting labs that focus on aging research
- Meeting investors with experience in longevity biotech
- Attending some events like Longevity Med Summit in Lisbon
- Writing and being open about my journey
I'll keep posting at least some updates on this blog (✉️ newsletter?) about all this journey. So maybe subscribe? You can follow me on 🐦 twitter too to keep up with all this. Also, if you think something is missing, feedback is more than welcomed, so contact me.