Since the discovery of aging genes in the 1990s, aging has been on the radar of scientists and investors alike. Today, factors as diverse as genetics, the environment and big data are coming together to inform the field of longevity research.
Which begs the question, what is longevity?
The article “Selling Long Life,” published in Nature Biotechnology, defines longevity research as “an effort to extend the period of healthy life by slowing the biological process of aging.” In essence, this research attempts to slow down biological time so that the negative health implications of old age are reduced and postponed as much as possible. Longevity investing is fundamentally about achieving longevity for life.
Human lifespans have gradually been increasing, and people are living for longer than ever before. However, with these extended lifespans come unique problems associated with old age; cancer, diabetes, obesity and dementia are becoming increasingly damaging and prevalent. As health policy expert Jay Olshansky has said, “the rise of [these diseases] is largely a product of living long enough to experience them.”
Longevity investing seeks out solutions for these diseases in an effort to help people live longer with a better quality of life. One interesting initiative is The Resilience Project, a collaboration between Stephen Friend of Seattle’s Sage Bionetworks and Eric Schadt of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York. This project seeks out individuals predisposed to childhood diseases who have gone on to become healthy adults. Its aim is to help to identify the second-site mutations and environmental factors that have helped these individuals ensure continued health despite their disease-causing mutations. The project is expected to yield a massive data set, which will become an immense asset in understanding aging and the field of longevity investing.
Recent research into aging has revealed it to be a polygenic trait — in other words, it’s a complex combination of factors, including genomic instability, mitochondrial dysfunction, altered intercellular communication and stem cell exhaustion. Essentially, aging must be understood as a collection of age-related diseases, rather than one single issue.
However, the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries operate on a different model. The vast majority of research and development focuses on targeting one disease for treatment, a far cry from the multiple factors that work intimately together to cause aging.
Nir Barzilai, director of the Institute for Aging Research at the Albert Einstein School of Medicine, believes that the drug industry’s localized solutions to problems related to aging are too limited to make a significant difference towards increased longevity. He has explained that “if we do not delay aging, all we can hope for is to exchange one disease for another.”
Now that we’ve answered the question, “what is longevity”, and are now asking yourself, “how should I invest in it?” Check our list of 5 anti-aging public companies or 5 Private Longevity Stocks to Watch.
This article was originally published on Life Science Investing News on June 16, 2015.
Securities Disclosure: I, Pia Rivera, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.