The Race for Eternal Youth: Billions of Dollars Behind the Quest

Written by Henrik Rothen

Dec.31 - 2023 6:00 PM CET

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Photo: Shutterstock.com
Photo: Shutterstock.com
The Race for Eternal Youth.

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Billions of dollars are being invested in research aimed at reversing the cellular aging process. Start-ups worldwide are entering the market of "immortality," where billionaires like Jeff Bezos are funding clinics to "cure" aging as if it were a disease.

Life Expectancy Continues to Rise

In the U.S, the average life expectancy is 77 years, but in the long term, it could be significantly extended.

"Soon it will be possible to live up to 100 years, or even 120 years," says Jean-Marc Lemaitre, director of research at Inserm and co-director of the Montpellier Institute of Regenerative Medicine and Biotechnology. His research group is seeking "eternal youth" in a market worth over 25 billion dollars in 2020, according to Allied Market Research (AMR).

Their estimates show that this figure could almost double in the next eight years.

Scientists, Start-Ups, and Clinics Worldwide Aim to Reverse Time

While much of the research is conducted in the United States, Europe is also vying for a share of this lucrative market. Start-ups like Epiterna in Switzerland, founded by Kevin Perez and Alejandro Ocampo, aim not only to increase the lifespan of humans and pets but also the quality of these years. "Instead of treating specific age-related diseases, we address aging as the main cause of disease and physical decline," says Alejandro Ocampo, co-founder of the Vaud-based company, which raised 10 million francs last summer, mostly from Daniel Ek and Shakil Khan's investment company, founders and investors of Spotify.

Controversial Results

Medications like the immunosuppressant rapamycin or the antidiabetic metformin are said to slow aging. However, other studies suggest that "despite data supporting anti-aging benefits, evidence that metformin increases lifespan remains controversial. In any case, by reducing early mortality associated with various diseases, including diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cognitive decline, and cancer, metformin can improve health span, thus extending the period of life spent in good health. Based on available evidence, we conclude that metformin's beneficial effects on aging and health are primarily indirect through its effects on cellular metabolism."

Switzerland Invests Hundreds of Millions of Euros

Switzerland, for example, is investing hundreds of millions of euros in the quest for eternal youth, with many luxury clinics specializing in longevity based there. Pioneering in the field, Clinique La Prairie in Clarens has been offering such services since 1931. Today, it is investing in new centers, with the next ones to open in China and Saudi Arabia. The Nescens Clinic in Genolier and the Chenot Palace in Weggis in Lucerne attract wealthy people from all over the world who hope to live longer and in better health thanks to medical treatments. Prince Michael of Liechtenstein will also open a longevity center in Zurich by the end of the year.

Eliminating Senescent Cells Can Restore Tissue and Organ Function

Altos Labs, Inc., another company founded in January 2022, has raised 3 billion dollars to develop life-extending therapies that can reverse human aging through cellular reprogramming. Among its first investors is a vehicle controlled by Russian-Israeli science and technology investor and philanthropist Yuri Milner and his wife Julia. Major funders include Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and ARCH Venture Partners founder Robert Nelsen. Altos Labs has attracted star scientists like Nobel laureate Shinya Yamanaka and geneticist Steve Horvath, the father of the epigenetic clock. The company has laboratories in San Diego, Cambridge, and Japan.

French Research Group Aims to Cure Aging

The French research group led by Jean-Marc Lemaitre wants to cure aging, treating it as a disease. "We should not only be interested in pathologies related to old age but in cells that trigger age-related diseases," explains the researcher who studies, among other things, cells at the end of life, those that have lost functions but can induce toxic oxidized residues for the body. "Eliminating these senescent cells from the body can restore the functioning of tissues and organs," says the French researcher. "The lifespan of mice in which we removed these cells was extended by 30%." Finally, there are other paths, such as the one proposed by David Sinclair, a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School in Boston. He claims to have discovered a chemical cocktail that can reverse aging. In mice, even at low doses, metformin – normally administered to people with type 2 diabetes – would lead to a longer lifespan. The professor claims that it will soon be normal to reach the age of 150 years and says that he will soon obtain a vaccine against aging.

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