This is the decade in which we get drugs directly for longevity into the clinic

Sept 2023

I started The Longevity Fund in 2011. Since then, we’ve funded some of the first companies in the space to IPO and get plausible drug candidates into patients (so far, all for age-related diseases, not longevity directly). We’re launching a new fund with a new name (excited to work with our new GP Alex Colville and team!), so I’ll summarize how I feel about the field on our old homepage.

The longevity field will play out in 3 stages: 

Pioneers (2013 - 2023): companies started in this decade show you can make financial returns building a longevity company, and get reasonable drug candidates to patients for specific age-related diseases.

Dominant players (2023 - 2050): I think we’ll see a wave of the best founders the field has ever seen. They’ll be prepared with the right resources to build the companies that 1) will go on to get the first approved longevity drugs (for age-related diseases, with ongoing plausibly successful trials for lifespan by the end of the decade) and 2) enter major biotech leagues ($10B+ valuations, enduring pharma co), and 3) scale to change how 50+ year olds plan their time and energy.

Generic players (2050+): developing drugs for longevity will feel as obvious and mainstream as developing drugs for cancer. The field will receive substantially more public and private funding. Large pharma companies will have teams working solely on longevity. A few of the largest companies, with drugs on the market, will be companies dedicated to increasing human longevity and biotech funds will regularly diligence and invest in longevity companies.

Increasing healthy human lifespan with a drug is the most important milestone for the field, and mission-oriented entrepreneurs will be the ones to do it.

Industries have inflection points. I think longevity is approaching the critical decade where we either breakthrough to the mainstream (but actually this time) or get silo’d in a funding winter or a fake version of the industry where people brand drugs as longevity to raise funding but don’t actually demonstrate that we can improve healthy longevity in people.

Presumably, if you’re a mission-oriented founder, you want to build companies when they count. I’d argue this is absolutely that decade - once longevity is more mainstream, conventional pharma talent will be efficiently applied to it, but currently it’s still outside the Overton window (and more so for conventional drug development talent than for funding). Nothing beats a human clinical trial for proving a point to drug developers - we can talk all we want about how great longevity is, but it’s time to rigorously show that longevity is actually something we can predictably change in humans.

At its heart, I’m arguing that talent and resources will come to the field by a few more orders of magnitude once we show this, and that founder-led companies will be the ones to do it.

The best longevity companies of this decade will be built by mission-oriented founders, running companies that they largely control. 

We’re betting that first-time (or early career founders) with unconventional backgrounds are much more likely to do well here than in other areas of biotech, and are surprisingly critical to the ecosystem.

Fundamentally, they just care more. I don’t think someone who doesn’t really care about the field will build the first truly successful longevity drug. They might care generically about medicine, or be personally motivated to build something successful, but they don’t have enough fire in them to make it through the ~1M hurdles they will encounter en route to bringing a longevity drug to the market. You have to truly care about the field to build a longevity company–this kind of person is not going to be a CEO for hire.

Counterfactual founders are better suited to fundraise and build longevity companies. They have a clean slate to figure out what the narrative should be, which will be a critical part of company-building and field-building.

Common objections:

1 . This is naive thinking-biotech is an exception to the categories of hard technology that less experienced founders can do well in.

Response: I actually agree that, for building single-asset companies, or companies with more traditional or well-accepted missions or structures, repeat CEOs might be great! In some cases, it just seems that the venture funds themselves become the company-like entity. However, longevity is different - it’s fundamentally a new industry. It has positives and negatives that normal CEOs aren’t used to dealing with. Therefore, their repeat experience won’t directly translate.

2 . These founders don't have critical skills.

: Silicon Valley is good at teaching first-time founders how to operate. You can recruit excellent drug development talent. You don’t need to be an excellent CSO to be an excellent CEO. Also, traditional resource roadblocks commonly encountered by young, ambitious people in hierarchical ecosystems like Boston are inverted in Silicon Valley. 

I’d argue that while pragmatic, ambitious and unconventional might be tautologically ‘great to have’ in most parts of biotech, they are critical here.

Longevity is a completely new industry inside of biotech, so founders who can think differently are required to figure out how to make it work.

While it’s critical for new talent to understand and recruit the most talented drug developers in the industry, traditional company-building and fundraising strategies do not obviously translate.

You need to think differently to build these companies. Longevity companies will involve fundamentally new regulatory, scientific, fundraising and company-building traits. Regulatory strategies to get lifespan drugs to market don't already exist, the science specific to longevity (from how you measure aging to accumulated knowledge of which interventions are BS) isn't common knowledge in the same way core principles of neurodegenerative disease and cancer are, fundraising looks completely different when you're raising for something conventional biotech VCs don't yet understand, and the types of entrepreneurs who do well under these constraints typically have much higher expectations for pace of progress than you'd see in the median biotech co. 

We need the generation of founders who literally grew up wanting to start these companies.

Lastly, a personal note to founders: building ambitious stuff like this takes decades. It’s incredibly hard. You’ll personally suffer and question why you’re still doing it for years in the middle. However, if we succeed, we will have made progress towards solving the biggest problem in medicine - giving people full agency over the number of healthy years they’d like to live. And I believe better medicines are one of the most canonically good technologies we can build. 

Build now, age later. 


Core axioms at the heart of longevity.

1. It is technically possible.

2. It is economically possible.

3. It is desirable.

Common objections:

1 . The second law says we have to die!

Response: The second law simply says that entropy needs to increase universally, but we are local systems. It certainly does not provide a physical limit on the number of human years it is possible to live outside of the plausible heat death of the universe - please feel free to send me any proofs if you think otherwise!

2 . The statement that you just have to put all the atoms in the right place is dumb because that doesn’t conform to the reality of biotech tools today.

Response: I totally agree! I don’t think that today’s modalities will allow us to live close to twice as long. I think the first therapies will be smaller lifespan gains. That doesn’t mean we can’t make better tools and continue to improve. Innovation doesn’t happen overnight.

I believe it is possible to increase human lifespan, to a small degree, in a measurable and reproducible way today. I also don’t think there’s any (currently known) upper bound on how much we can continue to increase lifespan as our tools improve.

  • We can engineer mammals to have longer lifespans than they otherwise would.
  • There’s a wide diversity of lifespan in the animal kingdom among animals with similar bodies.
  • At the extreme, we are a combination of 10^27 atoms, and just need to move them into the correct place.

3 . Death is a meaningful concept, and we shouldn’t eliminate it from our lexicon.

: I absolutely agree! Giving people more agency over the number of healthy years they live doesn’t eliminate the likelihood of death by accident or injury.