February 27, 2020Longevity Economy

The opportunities and challenges in the longevity sector

Interview with:

Sergey Young

Founder at Longevity Vision Fund. Longevity Investor and Visionary.

Sergey Young is a true visionary and one of the most prominent investors in the area of longevity, founder of the 100 million Longevity Vision Fund, board member of XPRIZE Foundation, as well as the development sponsor of Longevity XPRIZE. Sergey it's a great pleasure to have you on our podcast today.

S. Young: Likewise. Hello everybody. I'm very happy to be here.

Sergey, you are one of the most visionary people I have met in the sector and you are combining both the experience of an investor but also, you're very entrepreneurial, and you have a true passion for longevity. How did your passion and journey with longevity begin?

S. Young: Well, that's an interesting but very personal story. Five years ago, I went to a doctor and apparently, I had an extremely high cholesterol level and they wanted to put me on drugs, which is basically statins. When I realized that I would need to take these drugs until the end of my life, it was like a wake-up call for me. I felt that my life was just beginning to end. And then because of my degree in chemical engineering, I also realize how dangerous this habit can be, taking something of an artificial chemical nature, every day of my life. And so that's one thing. Secondly, I learned that it's not a unique problem for the world. Ninety-five million Americans suffer from the same disease. But also carry a high risk of heart disease and heart failure because of that. I started to experiment a lot with myself and my health and lifestyle, and I decreased my level of cholesterol by 25 percent in the first three or four months. So I was very surprised then. My question was always if we know the answer of how to improve our health naturally, why are we so lazy and unknowledgeable about this whole thing. This is where I started to dig in and consult and advise a lot of people for them to improve their health and enable patients to develop themselves. I launched the Longevity Vision Fund, I started to do Age Reversal XPrize. I started to write the book, because I thought that I had finally found the mission in life and I want at least 1 billion people to change their lives and live for a healthy, happy hundred years.

I thought that I had finally found the mission in life and I want at least 1 billion people to change their lives and live for a healthy, happy hundred years.

Sergey, thank you very much. This is so inspiring because you are one of the youngest entrepreneurs and there are so many other people that are going through the same journey but still don't get the right recommendations about what to do with their life and how to change it with lifestyle and not with medication. Where do you see the sector today and in five years from now? Now you're writing a book and you are in the middle of where everything is happening. You are spending most of your time in the U.S. and the UK, which are the fastest growing centers for longevity. So, what is happening today and where are we going?

S. Young: When we talk about longevity as a sector, we usually use three horizons of longevity and my new article is coming out on that. The first horizon is about today. This is where we find the killer monsters, cancer and heart disease. I believe that even today we know for the majority of the population how to live a happy and healthy hundred years. If you think about developments today, it is about, DIY diagnostics, which are becoming much more affordable and predictive, early on. I talked about variables, digital healthcare delivery, and different medical software and application development. A lot of what is happening is helping people to change their lives and improve their health and do early diagnosis, which is super critical for heart disease and cancer, which accounts for more than 50 percent of deaths of people above 50-years-old. Let's talk about tomorrow and we call it horizon two. I believe in the next 5-10-15 years, we will find a lot of technological breakthroughs, which will help us to break the barrier of the maximum life expectancy today on Earth, which is somewhere around 120 years. With technological breakthroughs that will be available to us in the next few years, we will be able to live to 150 or so. I think the most promising technologies are in genome engineering. It's a combination of genome therapy and genome editing. It's stem cells. I'm very optimistic about this whole area. And it's AI based diagnostics because what we have learnt recently is that the combination of a doctor and AI produce much better results in terms of diagnostics, rather than a doctor and a human being alone. We can talk about smart hospitals and nanorobots. Then if we move to horizon three, which I think is 25 to 50 years from now, that's the future. It's a little bit exotic and I'm not sure we all would be prepared to live in that, but we will gradually move there and certain aspects of that are already coming here. We are talking about age reversal and integration between artificial intelligence and our brain, human avatars, a new concept of the Internet of body, when our body will be just full of different sensors, different support mechanisms. And who knows what the definition of human body will be when we reach horizon three because then, we be able to rely on artificial 3D printed organs. That's how I see the future. But obviously, we need to work decades before we reach that.

I believe in the next 5-10-15 years, we will find a lot of technological breakthroughs, which will help us to break the barrier of the maximum life expectancy today on Earth, which is somewhere around 120 years.

Thank you. When you give presentations and write articles, you very often say that we are just on the brink of the longevity revolution. As an investor in the sector where you put your money and that of your investors into potential therapies or research that is currently being done. What are the areas that you feel are the most interesting for the investors?

S. Young: First of all, I just want to underline that within the Longevity Vision Fund and mission, we are only interested in technologies that would make longevity affordable and accessible. I would hate the idea that all the world developed was something available only to a very small group of people and of course cost a million dollars in terms of life extension technologies and longevity treatments as well. So, we have particular focus on affordability and accessibility. With this in mind, I think artificial intelligence will play an amazing role in almost every aspect of the technologies that we're developing and that would be my favorite technological aspect of a lot of investments that we do. Let's talk about our portfolio companies. We invested in Freenome early on, which is a company that works on early and noninvasive diagnosis of colon cancer. Currently, you need to go through a very invasive procedure and therefore people delay doing for up to five years, which goes against the rule that with cancer, you need to catch it very early. They just use blood tests to identify your cancer risk and use artificial intelligence to find correlation and hopefully, help all of us to do very early diagnosis. We can talk about Insilico medicine, which is fine year and AI-based drug discovery company. They can design a new drug at a target of one a month today rather than the typical two or three years required in the standard Big Pharma approach. So that's obviously a great use of technology and a huge improvement on the affordability of drugs and medicine. Finally, I can mention Equal Imaging. This company was one of our very first investments. They developed an AI- based ultrasound imaging device, which is extremely affordable. The cost of that is 20 to 40 times less than your ultrasound device, the ULC in the hospital next door, which will give us the opportunity to bring early diagnostics to many developing parts of the world, which couldn't afford the full cost of medical equipment today.

Very interesting. I had the great pleasure to attend your brainstorming session in Los Angeles in April 2019, where you invited a unique constellation of 50 world leaders in longevity to discuss its future and the basis for your longevity XPRIZE. Can you tell us more about the mission and vision of the longevity prize?

S. Young: If you think about longevity before these days, we've seen a lot of very different and traditional players trying to influence it, such as governments, Big Pharma and academics, but we haven't seen a lot of commercial interest or from nonprofit organizations. What we are trying to do with the XPRIZE Foundation is to launch an amazing pro bono competition, where the way it works is you go to a particular sponsor, it could be Big Pharma, Elon Musk or Mark Zuckerberg, you get a grant of 10-20 million and go to the world and say, "The first team to solve this particular global problem will get this prize". What usually happens after this announcement, is somewhere between 100 and 4,000 teams from 50 plus countries all around the world compete for this prize. And what you need to do is just support the interest and enthusiasm of these teams and hope that one or a few of them will develop the technology or intervention to solve your problem. This time, the problem we want to put to the world and the teams around the world that we want to solve is transversal. I am currently honored to be working in one team with Aubrey de Grey, Terry Grossman, Steve Forward and many other smart investors and academics on how we define the rules for that. Very likely, we will use a combination of biological clocks. Now we can measure the impact of different interventions and technologies on reversing aging. I hope this will help us to identify some of the very new and interesting routes into how we approach longevity. It is a very complex problem and it's very unlikely that we'll find a silver bullet. I think to have this crowdsourcing competition of ideas will be very helpful. We hope to launch this XPRIZE. We're currently in the design stage and hope to launch in summer this year. We are already seeing a few potential sponsors in the next couple of months. They are either huge organizations or governments around the world. I hope that it will be another interesting route and a way to find a solution for age reversal.

Now we can measure the impact of different interventions and technologies on reversing aging. I hope this will help us to identify some of the very new and interesting routes into how we approach longevity.

This sounds very exciting. It would be great PR for the longevity sector and will bring more knowledge and interest in the sector. You have already mentioned as part of horizon two some of the breakthrough solutions from genome sequencing, stem cells and AI-based diagnostics. What would you see as the most important today?

S. Young: I would identify three of them. The first is gene editing and gene therapy, I think it gives the opportunity for us to solve some of the rare diseases but also support much broader understanding of disease. It obviously has a lot of ethical implications but I'm pretty sure we as humanity will be able to solve them. Another one which I think is extremely promising is stem cell therapy. And the third, which I particularly like, is replaceable organ and 3D printed organs. We have invested in some amazing companies like Genesis, which is developing technology to use our lymph nodes to grow and regrow livers inside our body. By doing that, you solve a number of problems, including autoimmune response to the foreign implanted organ. You also solve the issue with donors because one liver, in the case of Genesis, can be used for 60 to 70 implants inside different bodies, and then starting from this small nucleus, our body will regrow it. I think it's just amazing what is happening in 3D printing place and replaceable organs.

Gene editing and gene therapy give the opportunity for us to solve some of the rare diseases but also support much broader understanding of disease.

You are strongly involved in a number of programs and activities in the U.S. and the UK to raise awareness and explain the sector to investors, technology companies and at the national level. Some countries are more open to that where they already have concerns about the demographic challenges, but also see opportunities of the sector to further support the need for prevention. What would be the best way to bring together various stakeholders, policymakers, scientists and investors to support the longevity revolution internationally, one will be your XPrize. What are the others?

S. Young: I think the combined effort of what you are doing, what we are doing in the Longevity Vision Fund, and many people in our longevity network such as Aubrey de Grey, who we can say caught the longevity virus. We are all united by a common mission to make lives of people much longer, healthier and happier. When I think about the best ways to promote the longevity agenda, I can think of three potential routes. Firstly, we need to bring longevity onto the national and government agenda. Right now, or if you want 10-20 years ago, it was mostly considered an issue for healthcare systems providers, Big Pharma or academia. It's not anymore, partly because of demographic changes and therefore risk and opportunities, which they bring in terms of silver tsunami, but overall, I think involving governments and nations on trying to solve the longevity paradox is extremely important. Secondly, I think we underestimated the role of businesses and corporations in creating socially responsible and longevity enabling environments. We spend more hours in the office than at home, given that we have some activities outside of these two places. It is much easier in businesses and corporations to implement some of the very easy and common sense solutions to support people’s healthy lives. Through means such as regular checkups, meditation, changing diet, what we have in the fridge, how we organize our food, measuring steps and giving everyone a tracker to measure their health. These types of things are part of my longevity at work program, which I'm doing all around the world giving free advice to huge businesses on how to change the environment inside the organization. It’s been an enormous success and people love it. Employee retention and war for talent are winning factors for many organizations. Finally, we all need to underline the importance of a preventive approach to medicine, because I was just looking at figures of the cost of treatment of someone who went to the hospital in a preventive way, arguably, an overprotective way. And comparing this with the cost of treatment in an emergency unit, depending on the country, the difference between them can be three to 10 times per person. It’s a very easy way to solve increasing healthcare cost problems, just doing early diagnosis and working more in preventive medicine is a huge economic opportunity on every level, individual, business and governmental.

Early diagnosis and working more in preventive medicine is a huge economic opportunity on every level, individual, business and governmental.

Sergey what is your personal longevity plan? What are you doing today to increase your health span?

S. Young: I do five things. One is every year; I have the most comprehensive health checkup I can afford. Because remember, it comes back to my earlier point about how important early diagnosis is. When I have 30 seconds to advise someone, I usually talk about the importance of an annual checkup. Number two, I refrain from bad habits, which is, I don't smoke. I use alcohol and coffee in moderation. And I always use seatbelts because I think longevity involves sticking to the rules, that’s extremely important. Also, smoking alone can statistically decrease someone's life by five to 15 years. Number three, I focus on the quality and quantity of my food. I'm trying to decrease my calories intake to the extent that I can. I do 36 hours fasting every week from Monday evening to Wednesday morning. I have an extremely heavily plant-based diet because the calorific intensity of vegetables are obviously much lower than meat and fish. Number four, I have routine in my physical activity. I do 10,000 steps a day. And I make sure I have at least two or three cardio exercises time a week. I think a combination of daily walking, hard work and a cardio regime is extremely important. Finally, there’s what I call peace of mind. I think it's very important to meditate and to sleep well. And I love a recent book called "Why We Sleep" by Matthew Walker. I think it's one of the best books of last year. It was an eye opener for me in terms of the importance of sleep, meditation, and acts of kindness. Having a sense of purpose and being grateful to the world, helping people around you and on the planet is extremely important. Look at the people who are driven by their vision or their desire to do acts of kindness, share themselves with the world. They are always different and always look younger. So, I try to do the same.

These, it seems, are your five commandments of longevity.

S. Young: Yes.

Thank you very much for this interview and I'm impressed how passionate you are about the sector. This is very inspiring, and I think you are one of the best PR and experts in this field as well, apart from being a great investor.

S. Young: Thank you. It's a substantial part of my life. It’s day and night, , my shower time is occupied by longevity and the amazing opportunities that we're all facing by using these technologies. Imagine what we can do in if we all have an extra 25, healthy and happy years in our life. There are so many dreams to fulfil.

Sergey, thank you so much for this interview.

S. Young: Thank you.

Highlights

  • I want at least 1 billion people to change their lives and live for a healthy, happy hundred years.
  • With technological breakthroughs that will be available to us in the next few years, we will be able to live to 150 or so.
  • We are only interested in technologies that would make longevity affordable and accessible.
  • It’s a very easy way to solve increasing healthcare cost problems, just doing early diagnosis and working more in preventive medicine.

Interview by

Joanna Bensz

Founder and CEO of the International Institute of Longevity.