Mapping the longevity ecosystem

This article is a summary of what I’ve learned through the whole year 2023 about the longevity ecosystem, by talking to as many scientists, entrepreneurs, influencers, policy makers and investors I could. The longevity community is vibrant and dynamic, but very small and niche. Thanks to the tremendous scientific progress from the last 15 years, we are the first generation of humans for whom indefinite lifespan is an ambitious yet attainable goal. However, the future depends on us and we have to create it by ourselves.

The structure of the longevity ecosystem

The longevity ecosystem is split in 2 subgroups:

– the “healthspanners”. This group of people advocates for the more modest yet realistic approach of taking into consideration the state of knowledge on longevity as it is now, and applying it to the population. There is reasonable evidence that a mix of lifestyle choices (physical activity, food, sleep & mental health), and drugs/supplements, can extend an average human life in good health by 20 years or more. It requires self-discipline, a long term proactive mindset, but it is 100% realistic and within our reach as of today. With some tweaks, and some foreseeable medical breakthroughs yet to come in the next decades (but nothing crazy or science-fiction), the average human lifespan could be further extended even more. However, these basic methods will not allow humans to live beyond 120 years, which seems to be the ultimate hard limit for the human species as we know it.

– the “lifespanners”. This group of people aims for “radical life extension”. They don’t want to live only 10 or 20 years, but 100 years longer, or maybe even reach “indefinite lifespan”. However, in order to reach such a goal, and break the limit of the 120 years lifespan, humans have to re-engineer themselves at the cellular/genetic level. This is where fascinating research and development in longevity comes into play, with some top notch scientists working on crazy projects such as cryopreservation, organ 3D printing, gene therapies, stem cell treatments, cellular reprogramming, organ replacement and regenerative medicine. However, these projects are about fundamental R&D in biology, which is by definition a long term, uncertain – high risk high reward – initiative. Because of these features (long term + uncertainty), there is very little private money invested in it. At the same time, public funding, which should finance fundamental R&D, is inaccessible to longevity research because from the legal point of view, aging is not considered (yet) as a disease. Without private nor public money, the lifespanners’ field is dramatically underfunded, living at the expense of some rare billionaires who fund a couple of startups (ex. Altos Labs, Calico, Retro Biosciences, etc …) and in so doing they further push the field in the unfortunate position where the public opinion associates it with yet another spoiled rich people’s hobby.

Reaching indefinite lifespan

As Abraham Lincoln said, “The best way to predict the future is to create it”. But how do we create a world in which humans can live as long as they want?

Well, the best and most realistic mental model to reach this difficult but reachable goal involves audacity, a unique combination of short term and long term plans, as well as a notion called “longevity escape velocity”.

The action plan to reach indefinite lifespan requires decades to execute, and involves 3 components :

– the first component is an ecosystem of profit making longevity companies. The time is ripe for “healthspan” startups to be created and pave the way to the transition from the “sick care” – where people wait to be sick before they see a doctor, and when they do it’s often too late – to “health care” – where the approach is to monitor one’s health to prevent disease long before it actually occurs. This transition from “sick care” to “health care” is in itself ambitious and hard to succeed, because it requires dramatic changes in society, against very well organized and powerful groups of interest: the pharmaceutical industry, which needs to transition from selling expensive treatments to sick people, to selling preventative medical services to healthy people; the agrifood industry, which produces unhealthy but cheap and tasteful food; medical services and doctors, who in most countries are educated and live on treating sick people, and do not support preventative medicine; last but not least, politicians and Governments, who have to do more to promote healthy lifestyles. Despite the obstacles, this shift from sick care to health care is a short term realistic step towards living longer and healthier.

– the second component is an ecosystem of NGOs, think tanks and influencers, whose role is to bear the longevity projects which are not profitable (at least not directly and/or not in the short term). These projects can be financed by the aforementioned profitable “healthspan” companies, as part of the longer term strategy. Indeed, the transition from “sick care” to “health care” will allow people to live 20 years longer, but in order to go beyond, fundamental R&D needs to start right now, so that in a couple of decades, research projects starting now will hopefully yield positive results in 20 or 30 years. Thus, if the short term game is to create and fund as many profitable longevity “healthspan” companies, the long term game involves different projects, such as: a bottom up strategy, consisting in awakening the public opinion to the prospect of living longer healthier; a top down approach, consisting in reaching out to political decision makers, and advocating for larger public budgets for fundamental R&D in longevity; last but not least, funding and creating more “moonshot” longevity biotech startups.

– the third and last component of the overall strategy consists in applying the “longevity escape velocity” principle to our own lives, to benefit from the first 2 components – the short and long term action plans. Indeed, we can create and use the services of the “healthspan” companies to optimize our healthspan using common and accessible medical knowledge as of today. This will preserve us longer, and will increase the likelyhood of still being in good health in a couple of decades, when – if we execute well on the longer term plan – fundamental R&D will deliver new scientific breakthroughs. This will in turn allow us to benefit from those futuristic technologies, that will be available at that time, which may prolong our lifespan even more. This “longevity escape velocity” is a beautiful notion that dramatically increases our odds of success, because the probability that we would discover the cure against ageing in 40 years is lower than the probability of discovering a set of sequential less ambitious treatment (say every decade we discover something that allows us to live a decade more), which could ultimately lead to the final understanding of the aging process and how to stop or revert it.

Practical steps

The best solution I could come up with is to create a two-headed legal structure:

– a startup studio, that will incubate profit making longevity startups.

– a foundation, that will own a major portion of the shares (if not all) of the startup studio. This foundation will bear the unprofitable projects (nevertheless necessary for the end game), such as political advocacy, public opinion campaigns, as well as the fundamental R&D in the biology of aging.

Doing this requires a lifetime of dedication for an army of people, if you think it’s worth it, join me!

4 thoughts on “Mapping the longevity ecosystem”

  1. I really appreciate the short-term / long-term framework presented in the article, though it’s clear that simplicity sometimes comes with trade-offs. The legal structure proposed at the end is particularly intriguing to me. It seems like an apt approach for a wide array of mission-driven projects.

    However, I believe the work in the longevity field isn’t solely technical. The philosophical discourse surrounding the concept of death, or rather a-mortality, appears to be a crucial aspect of this project. I’m also curious about your thoughts on ‘the body’. Are we striving for good health primarily in a mental sense? And what about the idea of preserving consciousness in silicon as a means to achieve a-mortality? There seem to be many avenues worth exploring in this fascinating journey towards extending human life.

    1. Hello Laurent,

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

      To be honest, my personal opinion is that Humanity is in the middle of a crossroad now:
      – either we destroy ourselves (war).
      – either we reach transcendence. Singularity. Space exploration and people living on other planets. Endless and clean energy through nuclear fusion. Brain computer interfaces connecting biology with AI and augmenting humans. It think the progress of AI in the very next years or decades will push Humanity through the kind of exponential progress we cannot even imagine at this point.

    1. Hello Vlad, it’s going to be a long and bumpy road, but also a wildly exciting one. Reach Indefinite Lifespan or die trying 🙂

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