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‘Immortalists’: The companies behind anti-ageing

Billionaires have begun to invest in unknown companies with the promise of anti-ageing. The likes of Jeff Bezos, Sam Altman, and Bryan Johnson are reportedly set on living forever.

Historically, rich, affluent people have attempted to prevent ageing. From Countess Elizabeth de Ecsed of the Kingdom of Hungary killing and mutilating hundreds of young women and bathing in their blood to retain their youth, to Serge Voronoff, the Russian-born French surgeon who claimed that his gland transplantation experiments from monkeys to humans rejuvenated youth in patients.

While these are wild historical tales, who are the companies receiving billions of dollars of investment from some of the world’s biggest business names? 

“You win by never crossing the finish line”

Bryan Johnson, perhaps infamously known for saying “I have the erection of an 18-year-old”, is a major player in the longevity community. Founding both Blueprint, the protocol designed to promote longevity, and the Rejuvenation Olympics, a competition-based webpage designed to rank people’s age reversals. 

Allegedly spending $2m (£1.5m) annually on his own age reversal, Bryan Johnson claims to have slowed his pace of ageing by 31 equivalent years and accumulates ageing damage slower than 88% of 18-year-olds. Recently, Johnson recruited his 17-year-old son for a generational plasma exchange but then stopped after finding no evidence to support the effectiveness of the treatment. 

“Our mission is to add 10 years to a healthy human lifespan”

Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI, has reportedly invested $180m (£142.5m) in biotech company Retro Biosciences. His interest was originally piqued by the theory of heterochronic parabiosis, the pairing of two animals of different ages to rejuvenate the older animal. 

Altman’s investment is one of the largest investments an individual has placed on a start-up pursuing human longevity. With a focus on cellular reprogramming, autophagy, and plasma-inspired therapeutics, his investment remained anonymous until recently. 

“We believe every human has the right to live a longer, healthier life”

A Saudi Arabia-based non-profit organisation, Hevolution Foundation, provides grants and investments to incentivise research in health-span science, with the aim to delay the ageing process and recent age-related disorders and conditions. Previous grants include $21m (£16.6m) for a multi-year partnership with Buck Institute for Research on Aging to accelerate discoveries towards therapeutic interventions, along with $16m (£12.6m) to expand the New Investigator Awards programme in Aging biology, and Geroscience to support early career researchers through the American Federation of Aging Research.  

Information on the specifics of the science behind the companies is inconclusive. 

“We are working to better understand the biology that controls ageing and lifespan”

A subsidiary of Alphabet Inc, with a focus on biotechnology, Calico Labs is “on a mission to understand the biology that controls ageing and lifespan”.

One of their doctors, Dr Cynthia Kenyon, PhD, hypothesised that scientists could control lifespan by changing genes, much like in evolution. 

More open to their research, recent discoveries include a potential enhancement in an anti-tumour immunity drug and the beginning of clinal trials for the treatment of vanishing white matter disease. 

“Our mission is to restore cell health and resilience through cell rejuvenation programming”

Invested in by Jeff Bezos, biotech company Altos Labs launched on day one with $3bn (£2.4bn), the largest amount for a start-up to begin with. The company is focused on cellular research, and this is likely to be similar to other cell rejuvenation principles like Retro Biosciences. 

The company, according to founder and CEO Hal Barron, is looking to “reimagine medical treatments where reversing disease for patients of any age is possible”. However, company representatives have argued this is not an anti-ageing company, but this has been largely ignored due to Bezos’ long-standing interest in anti-ageing research. 

We tried this before…

Jesse Karmazin founded Ambrosia with the promise to combat ageing and related diseases with blood plasma infusions from young people. This lasted between 2016 and 2019. According to Karmazin, the infusions “dramatically improve people’s appearance, their memory and their strength”. He also went on to claim it reverses ageing and comes close to providing immortality to humans. 

However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a statement in 2019 against the use of plasma treatment from young donors due to the lack of evidence supporting the therapeutic benefits. They said, “Using plasma from young donors has not gone through the rigorous testing that the FDA normally requires in order to confirm the therapeutic benefit of a product and to ensure its safety.” The statement also says, “These products should not be assumed to be safe or effective”. This promptly led to the shutdown of Karmazin’s company. 

Have we thought this through? 

 These companies all seem to be researching the same topic. Researcher Felipe Sierra, director of the division of ageing biology at the National Institute on Aging, speaking about Calico Labs, said “We want to know what they are doing so we can focus on other things, or collaborate. They are a research company, so what are they researching?” 

Further to this, the websites all have one thing in common, and that’s a lack of tangible information. Compared to other medical sites that demonstrate research for ailments like cancer or autoimmune diseases, there is limited information supplied. For example, Cancer Research UK has a ‘research by cancer type’ section, where you can see past and current research, and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society provides updates on their research in the search for a cure.  

This seems not dissimilar to the Ancient Greeks attempting to find the illusive ‘fountain of youth’. Will history repeat itself? Is there a chance that we will recount these billionaires as eccentric in their ways, akin to the aforementioned Serge Voronoff? At this stage, it looks like the closest we are likely to get is AI or computer consciousness. The body is not meant to last forever. 

Or is it?

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