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The End of Aging

Soon, living to 110 will be the norm.

5 Minute Read

What you need to know: 

  • Aging is far more likely to contribute to disease than typical vices, and scientists have been working on methods, such as tissue regeneration, to keep us healthier for much longer. Harvard professor David Sinclair believes in the near future the average life expectancy will increase from 83 to 113 and that people will not decline as rapidly in their last years.
  • Some $800m was invested in anti-aging startups last year, compared to ~$100m in 2013. 

How you can capitalize: 

  • Improve wearable technology: Instead of measuring heart rates, blood sugar or other important markers, new wearables will signal to users how to improve health and longevity on a daily basis, like by eating a certain meal. These devices also might be implanted under the skin.
  • Rethink society: If we’re living much longer, healthier lives, more attention will be paid to seniors than ever before. The exercise industry will boom, and senior entrepreneurs, already common, will become more frequent.  
  • Consolidate your next startup (and your skill set): Mehmood Khan, Life Biosciences CEO, says technology, academia, the medical field and ecommerce are going to meld like never before, in part because of the anti-aging movement. “Gone are the days where you’re a businessman or engineer or academic…In the modern age those lines are blurred and rightly so.”   

* * *

When Harvard scientist David Sinclair was about 4 years old, his parents shared terrifying information. They told him that one day, not too far into the future, they would no longer be around. And a little farther down the line, they said, he would be gone, too. 

It was Sinclair’s first lesson in mortality, the same one we all receive when we’re young. Most of us forget about it and shift deep into the back of our minds the reality that when we reach our 80s most of us will die or experience deterioration in our health. “You can’t get through the day if you don’t forget about it,” he says.  

But Sinclair, a professor of genetics and author of Lifespan: Why We Age and Why We Don’t Have To, never forgot. He’s dedicated his career to studying aging, which is far more likely to contribute to disease than typical vices. Smoking, for instance, increases a person’s risk for contracting cancer five-fold. Aging from 20 to 70 increases the risk 1,000-fold. 

Now, after years of work by Sinclair and other scientists, anti-aging has gone from an empty promise found on skin creams and serums to a serious industry. Sinclair would not be surprised if the average age expectancy increased by 30 years, to 113, for generations who are alive right now. More than that, people’s minds and bodies will be as sharp as they were in middle age or earlier until nearly the end of their lives.

“I’m not saying we can live forever,” Sinclair says. “The case I make is that there is no barrier and that with concerted effort, investment and research we can extend a healthy period of people’s lives and keep them productive—instead of spending the last 5 to 10 years in an unproductive state nobody would wish for.”

The opportunities in the anti-aging space involve producing technologies and treatments that proactively beat disease and decay. Many of them, such as those Sinclair has been working on, require years of medical studies and experiments. But plenty of opportunities exist for producing sensors and wearable technologies that go a step beyond what we have today, including skin implants that can alert a person to exactly how they need to exercise and eat to achieve the ideal diet, sleep better, and ultimately live a longer life. 

There’s also the bigger picture. If a large population is healthy deep into their 100s, society itself will need to be remade. Billionaire investor Jim Mellon already believes longevity has greater potential than any investment he’s made.

The opportunity of consolidation 

Mellon is one of several venture capitalists focused on the space. Others, according to CB Insights, include Laura Deming’s The Longevity Fund and Kizoo Technology Ventures. An estimated $800m was invested in anti-aging startups last year, compared to ~$100m in 2013. 

Leading longevity companies include:

  • Samumed, which has received $438m in funding and is valued at $12B. It’s researching tissue regeneration that could cure everything from baldness to Alzheimer’s.
  • Celularity, which recently received $250m in funding, and is attempting to increase immunity to disease. 
  • AgeX Therapeutics, already a public company, is using stem cell technology to reverse degenerative disease.

Life Biosciences has eight daughter companies, each focused on a particular cause of aging, such as chromosomal instability, metabolism and stem cell exhaustion. One example of its research involves the accumulation of fat in the liver. It tends to happen as we age and can lead to diseases like cirrhosis. Scientists for Life Biosciences are attempting to increase the rate at which the liver burns fat to stave off the complications.    

Life Biosciences, which received $50m in Series B funding this year, exemplifies how its CEO Mehmood Khan sees the medical community and the tech community evolving in the future: “One of the things we are building with Life Biosciences is that global ecosystem with different disciplines converging around this problem. Gone are the days where you’re a businessman or engineer or academic…In the modern age those lines are blurred and rightly so.” 

Credit: Life Biosciences 

Khan, who was previously vice chairman at PepsiCo, says the tech community has so far excelled at creating devices that help make aging more comfortable and safe. “None of that changes the biology of aging,” he says. All that does is one way or another support the person.” 

The next phase involves using medical advances to make the devices proactive. In his book, Lifespan, Sinclair theorizes the monitoring devices will offer directions on how to achieve longevity. A “personal virtual assistant” will notify of low iron levels or blood sugar levels and hint to users to make a particular diet choice at their next meal. It will “biotrack” early symptoms of degeneration and disease and notify doctors. The monitoring devices could be skin patches and later under-the-skin implants. “Eventually, I suspect, very few people will want to live without tech like this,” Sinclair writes.

Through the biotracking is another opportunity: Widespread collection of data will allow for scientists to study patterns and predict potential public health crises. 

Who’s primed to convince people of the need for being tracked and take advantage of the opportunity? Sinclair believes it could be “a computer company. Or maybe a pharmaceutical manufacturer. Or an internet shopping company. Or an insurer. Or a pharmacy. Or a supplement company. Or a hospital network. Most likely, it will be a combination of these companies, all under one roof.”

Rethinking society      

Pharmacology aside, a world in which people live longer, more productive lives will lead to numerous opportunities. Seniors are already more likely to start businesses than young people. Their accumulated capital and knowledge that they will be healthy for decades after 65 will likely further spur entrepreneurship. And the demand for incubators and coworking spaces aimed at seniors—a few of which already exist—will grow in popularity.

Khan suggests thinking about the current inconveniences faced by seniors: “On the consumer perspective if you go to the shopping center today and you go buy groceries there’s very little designed for an older person. How do you know that? Try reading the labels or opening a cereal box. It’s not designed with an older person in mind.” When people live longer, their consumer needs will be taken more seriously, and the market will be much larger.    

Sinclair has identified diet and exercise as two of the most important components for combating aging. The already-growing markets for at-home exercise will expand as more people are able to exercise for longer in their lives. Startups could also capitalize in the future by building exercise programs for individuals based on data collected from wearable or in-skin technologies. 

Of course, you might also want to consider starting a cruise line, or at least investing in an established player. Mellon joked that outside of the pharmacology the cruise industry is the surest bet for a world where people are healthier for much longer. “People over 70 like going on cruises,” Mellon says. “The market for cruises will just keep getting bigger and bigger and bigger.”