January | Meet Group Members & Define Goals

Summary

After a short pause, the Foresight Biotech and Health Extension group sponsored by 100 Plus Capital reconvened on the second Thursday of the month to start this year’s program together, announce the 2021 Foresight Fellows, recap what happened in 2020 and discuss potential high-impact areas, plans and opportunities in 2021. Another announcement made was that to further improve upon the actionability of the group, this year’s program will be a little bit different. In the first half of the year, we will focus on identifying the biggest opportunities, bottlenecks and stumbling blocks in the industry that we can act on. And the second half of the year should serve as a sort of accelerator for actual ideas and projects that will try to act on the identified opportunities and goals and go after them. Connected to that is the possibility of a grant and a follow-up investment from partners to provide as much motivation for action as possible!

Longevity network building and high-level agenda setting

  • Picking up the network pace in 2021: The longevity industry saw impressive progress in 2020, bringing together quite a large number of people in the science, policy, regulation and government. And in 2021 we should not limit ourselves and strive to get longevity even more attention from those high up the various decision-making food chains (like Anthony Fauci or Joe Biden). There have been statements from the Biden admin on wanting to overcome cancer and Alzheimer’s. This seems like a clear opening if we can identify the proper chain of people to work through. We should ask ourselves: “If you could call anyone, who would you call and what would you ask them to do?” and then figure out a way to realize it.

 

  • Devising actionable longevity progress roadmap: Assemble a top 10 list of things that the government, FDA, other crucial actors can do to help longevity science move forward, to be circulated by the group in relevant contexts. This list would specify concrete needs, and for each need propose potential small step but high-impact actions for the relevant actors. For instance, for recognizing aging as a disease, a lot of people would need to do a lot of different things to make it happen.

 

  • Creating a coalition with coherently articulated ends and means: Do for aging what CRA does for computer research. Create a coalition that: 1) continually assesses where we are today with longevity research, 2) where we would like to be in various timeframes, and 3) identify the key public and private members of the community and the actions they need to take in order for the field to get where we want to be.

    An example of something we would like to see happen is that the NIA should have a larger budget, that is not specifically allocated to Alzheimer’s, so that it could better fund both fundamental and translational geroscience research. First we need to ask: “What has to happen in order for that budget increase to happen?” Based on that we need to figure out who needs to come together, and tell them with some level of specificity what it is that we want those individuals and organizations to do. And make it as easy as possible for them to do it. Example action is telling a specific person: “I want you to send an email saying this and that to this member of that cabinet.”

 

  • Boarding the COVID-19 related longevity advocacy boat: We haven’t missed the boat yet. The main challenge will come after the pandemic, when longevity advocates will need to convince policymakers that rejuvenating the immune system is the right prevention for the next pandemic (after the focus shifts to the next pandemic when the current pandemic is under control and waning off). There might also be a second potential boat and communication angle, if we find that the mRNA vaccine immunization works worse in the elderly, which is probable as it utilizes machinery that also degrades with aging.

 

  • Working together with partners on issues aligned with the longevity crusade: Figure out how we can align the longevity movement with other groups and multitude of medical philanthropies and disease groups, and work towards the same goal. An example of a problem with many potential synergies is the problem of cutting edge technologies that are in dire need of FDA regulation streamlining. And that is true not only in the US with FDA, but around the world as well.

 

Issues with clinical trials and data collected

  • Pushing for standardization and validation of biomarkers: Right now the regulatory process is still a major bottleneck. But there doesn’t seem to be a particular reluctance at FDA level – there are a lot of aging reviewers at FDA that would definitely like to see good data on healthspan improvement, but we need to have ways how to measure it, and then get solid clinical data. An example of that is resTORbio’s drug candidate that failed in part because the FDA changed the endpoint. That further bolsters the fact that finding a common language with the government agencies needs to be an important part of the longevity advocacy strategy. 

 

  • Finding novel ways to do clinical trials: COVID-19 trials didn’t really give us any interesting data about aging therapeutics. We need to find new ways to get many people enrolled into longevity clinical trials to start gathering good real world evidence. Push to get better targeted studies, support overhauling the clinical trial industry so it’s much more coordinated and regulated. Or we can create a prototype of how to share open data in an accessible way, which could serve as a foundation for finding new hypotheses to run more trials on. Part of the strategy could also be lobbying in the US for aggregated personal healthcare records..

 

  • Rethinking the frameworks of use of patient data: NHS in the UK already has standardized patient records, full birth to death histories, and much more. But the problem is accessing them because of different data packages used to collect them, compatibility between systems, and also because of the enormous privacy issue. We need to actually rethink the use of patient data, so we can also make use of it in the aging context.

 

General industry opportunities

  • Getting more AI into bio and longevity: It seems that almost every single non-biotech tech company is using AI, but not every single biotech company is using AI. Even though biotech needs AI much more than the non-biotech companies. We should all be pushing for more AI in biotech, not for AI as a goal in itself, but as a tool that biotech has been slightly slower to pick up.

 

  • Avoiding market failure of low cost measures: We should make sure that we as longevity advocates are not jumping on the hype train with advanced technologies while overlooking affordable and available cost-effective interventions that can already have significant effect. Understanding the blockers of wide-spread high-impact prevention investments is important. Also important is not underestimating the effect of siloing of knowledge. Most people are still not aware of the malleability of aging. Very often are obvious solutions not implemented simply because the key stakeholders are not aware of them.

 

  • Finding a bottom-up way to change the system: Make a solution so valuable and intuitive to understand that the public starts to push for it’s fast-tracking. Like the COVID-19 detection system utilizing smartphone audio detection that the NBA used. Find something similar for aging – so obviously better than anything else that everyone puts pressure on the system to put it to use as quickly as possible.

 

  • Evaluating systemic versus divide and conquer approach: Are we looking for a health extending technology that’s systemic, or for something that’s repairing things on a piece by piece basis? Systemic promise of senolytics might have been a reason for it’s excessive hype in the business arena, even though we don’t have strong data in humans yet. We should be wary of overhyping approaches. Which is also connected with the necessity of better and standardized biomarkers and measurement methods.

 

In-group community actionables

  • Making the community global rather than local: The group shouldn’t focus just on the US and work more internationally, as there are initiatives that can serve as a good example for other countries. Case in point is the UK, where the House of Lords published a report recommending tackling aging as the cause of aging-related diseases and at a systemic level, rather than individual diseases.

 

  • Nurturing serendipity and silo cross pollination: Discussion about a longevity investment opportunity with one Foresight Fellow, a nanotech expert, resulted in some great advice. It would be great to be able to meet in person again just to be able to go back and forth on different things like that. Before that is possible, at least the virtual community gatherings and community membership profile should substitute that.

 

  • Starting a fund or a network of funds targeting more clinical data: A concrete and impactful thing we could do is setting up a network of funds and funders, or perhaps even start a new fund or an investment or special purpose vehicle. Then when an entrepreneur has an actual aging pathway therapy that they want to take out to a clinical trial for some proxy disease for aging, the news could go out to the network, and therefore ease the process of funding trials, which seems to be one of the bottlenecks at the moment.