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Never Grow Old: The Business of Anti-Aging Science

A woman tearing up a photo of her older self

Since the dawn of human existence, many have dreamed of living longer lives and enjoying better health into their later years. Some have wished they could live to eternity and escape the fate of death. But despite many attempts, and many false claims, the ability to extend life decades into the future has remained elusive. However, that hasn’t stopped the number of anti-aging startups that see this as their mission. Equipped with tremendous funding from those who share the dream, these companies are forging ahead. And some believe they’ll finally usher in a new era of human longevity.

By all accounts, the business of anti-aging science is alive and well. For many years, anti-aging supplements and diet fads have existed. But the anti-aging startups today are taking a more science, technology and engineering approach to the problem. While most of the emerging biotech firms in this field lack an FDA-approved product on the market, they remain hopeful. Several are conducting animal trials in mice, and new discoveries continue to arise to further guide research. And if all goes as planned, longevity research could lead to a new daily health routine. (Dive deeper into the field of longevity research in this Bold story.)

“Whenever you meet a fundamental human need, there’s a market. And in this case, the market for age-related disease and aging is a trillion-dollar market.” – said Michael West, CEO of AgeX Therapeutics

Targeting Senescent Cells for Anti-Aging Therapies

When it comes to the business of anti-aging science, there are generally two main approaches. The one that seems to be attracting attention the most involves altering cells that no longer divide. These are referred to as senescent cells by researchers. By altering genetic material, some cells may be able to live longer before getting to their senescent stage. Researchers at UCSF discovered this to be the case in the 1990s when experimenting with worms. Likewise, some anti-aging startups are trying to offset the inflammatory response these senescent cells trigger. The inflammation reduces the immune system’s ability to keep the rest of the body young. Thus, preventing this response could similarly have promising antiaging effects.

The other strategy used by anti-aging startups involve the administration of systemic molecules that promotes youthfulness. In this instance, the chemicals do not alter the genetic makeup of a cell to combat senescence. Instead, they trigger cells to think they are younger and function in a more youthful way. These could consist of a variety of substances ranging from a tablet to a topical gel. Though these seem similar to vitamins and other anti-supplements, these would be FDA-approved and backed by research. This is the direction the business of anti-aging science seems to be heading.

“These efforts are not about creating physical traits that don’t already exist naturally. This is about enhancing the mission readiness of our forces by improving performance characteristics that typically decline with age.” – U.S. Navy Cmdr. Tim Hawkins

Notable Anti-Aging Startups Currently

There are a number of anti-aging startups today heavily invested in advancing the human lifespan and quality of life. While each is taking a slightly different approach, all are attracting big dollars from wealthy investors. In particular, some of the wealthiest individuals in the world are showing quite an interest in the business of antiaging science. Among them include Jeff Bezos, Peter Thiel, and Larry Ellison. Even Google has their own aging research company called Calico. With this in mind, the following are a few anti-aging startups that have been making recent headlines.

  • Metro International Biotech – This Michigan-based anti-aging startup company recently partnered the U.S. Special Operations Forces Command (SOCOM). SOCOM has invested $2.8 million into clinical trials involving an anti-aging pill. The pill is supposed to boost NAD+ levels in the body, which has been linked to enhanced metabolism and anti-aging. SOCOM leadership is hoping to develop a nutraceutical that improves endurance and speeds recovery from injury.
  • Unity Biotechnology – As a leader in the business of anti-aging science, Unity Biotech has already begun some small human clinical trials. Based in San Francisco, Unity has already received $300 million in funding. Its current trials involve injecting a drug into osteoarthritic knees to counter the inflammatory effects of senescent cells. The anti-aging startup is pursuing FDA approval with hopes larger clinical trials this year show promising results.
  • AgeX Therapeutics – This startup company is taking a different approach to the business of anti-aging science. It is focused more on induced tissue regeneration and on stimulating cells to regenerate and repair themselves. Its current product is a topical hydrogel that minimizes scarring and promotes youthful healing. The anti-aging startup hopes to advance its efforts toward drugs that retrain heart cells to regenerate after a heart attack.
Someone holding an anti-aging pill in their gloved hand
A pill to reverse aging? That’s what some anti-aging startups are shooting for.

“It’s probably not a single factor that drives aging or a single factor that can rejuvenate tissues. It’s going to have to eventually be a cocktail of things that people take.” – Paul Robbins, Molecular Biologist, University of Minnesota Medical School

The Ethics and Economics of Anti-Aging

These new developments in the business of anti-aging science are certainly exciting, but they also raise important questions. Living longer is not necessarily a good thing in every aspect. If health and quality of life remains poor in one’s later years, this may not even be desirable. Likewise, the social burdens that may occur with a longer lifespan have to be considered as well. Currently, the fastest growing segment of the population are those 85 years and older. If anti-aging startups are successful in their efforts, this will expand even faster. The effects these disruptive technologies can have on social securities, health systems, and care institutions could be overwhelming.

Notably, the goals of anti-aging startups is not to create immortality or even increase the length of life alone. Instead, the business of anti-aging science is more about expanding the health-span and not just the life span. This means improving not just the number of years lived but the quality of life and good health concurrently. This is their primary goal, and if successful, it could change how each of us approach our daily lives. For now, a nutritious diet, exercise, and a healthy lifestyle are still the best bets. But a few decades from now, there might be a few additional options we need to consider.


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