Age-related changes and illnesses have been associated with genetics, the proteome, diet and even gut bacteria. Longevity research focuses on understanding the biological processes behind how we age, with the aim of delaying or preventing age-related disease.
Cutting-edge research and innovation can require large monetary investment to carry projects from concept to practice. To find out more about how early-stage funding could improve longevity research, Technology Networks spoke to Garri Zmudze, executive director of the Longevity Science Foundation, a non-profit organization looking to fund a longer and healthier human lifespan by supporting longevity research.
Katie Brighton (KB): Could you highlight what the aims of the Longevity Science Foundation are?
Garri Zmudze (GZ): The mission of the Longevity Science Foundation (LSF) is to fund projects working toward a longer and healthier human lifespan. By funding research and development of medical technologies at their earliest stages, we can help extend the healthy human lifespan.
Unlike venture capital or traditional investments, there is no exchange of equity or intellectual property needed to receive funding. In other words, there are no investors putting pressure on researchers – just financial support that we’ve gathered from global donors. Our goal is to distribute 1 billion U.S. dollars over the next 10 years in non-dilutive project funding. In March, we announced our first funding call on projects related to aging clocks and are currently reviewing submitted proposals.
We are a non-profit organization recognized in the US and Switzerland. All LSF donors receive voting rights for the foundation’s funding decisions. At certain contribution levels, donors can unlock perks like access to longevity events, networking opportunities, NFT drops and more.
KB: What are the main roles of early-stage funding for companies as they embark into cutting-edge research?
GZ: Genuinely cutting-edge innovation at the laboratory or research stage often requires significant funding just to get started. Finding this funding is a big challenge for researchers from smaller institutions. Foundational grants like those from the LSF can offer much-needed support for the high upfront fees associated with such research.
The longevity sector is still seen as far-fetched by parts of the science world. While more established than longevity, biotech investing is still consistently called “risky” by investors and venture capital firms. We provide funding for projects and research that we believe will change the future of our lives but would traditionally be passed over by other funding groups.
A key ingredient to providing the longevity space with a qualitative push is to fund early-stage research, which can support projects to the stage of being differentiable as a potential therapy or product and, thus, be eligible for venture funding. By increasing the number of such cases, you are ultimately stimulating the risk capital inflow in the industry, as well as multiplying the amount of early-stage ventures on route to their clinical validation.
We’ve seen a successful instance of this with the company Insilico Medicine, which is working to develop new drugs using artificial intelligence (AI) technology. Insilico Medicine’s founding team received pre-seed funding that allowed them to establish research trajectories and build the technology needed to achieve success. Having recently achieved unicorn status (as a privately owned startup valued at over 1 billion US dollars), Insilico Medicine now has the first-ever AI-developed drug in human trials. This is a tremendous example of how early funding can help bring ideas in the longevity space from concept to practice.
KB: What do you think the main barriers are to making the longevity research sector more accepted by researchers? Does the LSF have a plan to combat these?
GZ: We believe that the main barrier to mainstream acceptance is the lack of transparent, equity-free funding for early-stage longevity research, which is not yet eligible for venture funding, yet needs capital to define a distinguishable therapy or product to work on. By providing funding to these early-stage ventures, we empower researchers and founders to bring their projects to a point where they can publish findings, launch trials and offer treatments to the general population.
Other barriers also include general confusion about what longevity research means. There are a lot of claims from popular media sources that certain foods, diets or exercises will magically add years to one’s life. While lifestyle changes can promote healthy aging, longevity is nuanced and there is no silver bullet that will allow humanity as a whole to live longer. We are trying to make longevity research more accessible by publishing content on what working with a longevity physician looks like in practice and how the definition of longevity has expanded in the past years.
KB: The foundation has announced its first funding call focused on the concept of aging clocks. Can you explain a bit more about what is meant by aging clocks? What impact might research in this area have on the overall field of longevity research?
GZ: Aging clocks refer to tools that individuals and researchers can use to measure their biological age. This can include apps, software and other devices designed specifically to track biological age based on biofeedback and other measurements.
The recent discoveries around aging biomarkers and aging clocks have significantly benefited the longevity sector, helping accelerate the development of diagnostics, treatments and more. Aging clocks are a valuable tool for researchers, as biomarkers can help determine an individual’s biological age based on cells, tissues and other body systems. As the sector moves toward a more nuanced understanding of the science around aging clocks, stakeholders will be able to unlock a more comprehensive and holistic assessment of someone’s health. Aging clocks also facilitate means for researchers to measure the efficacy of anti-aging treatments. They provide a straightforward standard of comparison for measuring whether or not a treatment is making a difference.
KB: What other concepts or topics might the LSF be looking to fund in future?
GZ: Our primary focus areas are therapeutics, predictive diagnostics, personalized medicine and artificial intelligence. Our Visionary Board, which comprises leading longevity researchers and physicians, identified these areas as having the potential to transform longevity medicine in the near future.
We also focus on research and projects that will make a difference within the coming years, with a goal of reaching practice within five years. We believe numerous projects in the longevity space currently entering clinical trials will play an instrumental role in advancing the sector when they reach their next stage.
KB: What do you think the future looks like for the longevity research sector and where does the LSF fit into this?
GZ: I am incredibly excited about the future of the longevity research sector. We have seen tremendous interest in the longevity space in the past year that aligns with discoveries from more than two decades ago. The key turning point for the longevity field was the discovery of aging as a biological process. Since then, researchers have been conducting studies and publishing reports on what this means in practice.
Some of these findings are gaining significant traction and reaching human trial stages, which is likely why more people have recently been interested in the field. Of course, with more researchers paying attention to anti-aging, there is a higher probability of having treatments ready for human trials and market entry. The foundation will play an instrumental role in bringing these research findings out of the laboratory and into public use, helping society move closer to reliable anti-aging options.
While there may never be a definitive “cure” for aging as some people might desire, we believe current findings have the potential to transform what aging looks like in our lifetimes. The Longevity Science Foundation will provide the funding needed to bring us closer to anti-aging treatments and a renewed perspective on the trajectory of our lifespans.
Garri Zmudze was speaking to Katie Brighton, Scientific Copywriter for Technology Networks.