Big Pharma is at long last embracing Longevity Science. The corollary: longevity science is entering Mainstream (with capital "M")
But let me backtrack...
When Harvard professor David Sinclair declared the 2020's to be the "decade of the paradigm shift about age reversal", one could perhaps be dismissive of it as just an outburst of enthusiasm...
But in the past couple of years, we're seeing strong evidence that his forecast is right on the mark!
While I worked at GlaxoSmithKline - a giant, top-10, pharma company - I vigorously advocated forming a Longevity Science dept., and spoke to several VP's, senior VP's, and Hal Barron (the Chief Science Officer - yes, the one about to take the helm of Altos) himself a few times. He was friendly and very accessible, but non-committal... which puzzled me, given his large previous role at Google's longevity company Calico. I had a feeling he was up to something - something that he just couldn't yet reveal - INDEED!
Here is the official news announcement about Altos that earned me the "incredibly prescient" compliment I quoted at the opening.
Hal Barron, the CSO of mainstream Big Pharma GSK, is now about to become CEO of Altos...
Rousing the Sleeping Giant
When I first joined GSK, I was astonished - and yet not too surprised - that there wasn't a single mention of Longevity Science anywhere on the company's internal message boards : coming from small pioneering companies in the Longevity fields (in particular, my work at OpenCures.org, run by the co-founder of the SENS research foundation), I was very well aware of giant pharma's reputation as "being asleep at the wheel" when it came to Longevity Science...
Nonetheless, I quintuple-checked that indeed there was no group about longevity on GSK's "Workplace" (basically, a professional version of Facebook for internal company use), before starting one myself. I certainly didn't want to make a fool of myself by starting a group that was already in place!
On the company's "Workplace" platform, I found all sorts of groups on just about every imaginable subject - even Quantum Computers - but an absolute zero about longevity: "not even the smell of it", as my dad used to say! I consulted colleagues, management and top management - all the way to Hal Barron (friendly and very approachable, I was happy to discover), and indeed confirmed that no such group was in existence.
So, I started it: "Longevity Science & Business : Healthy Life Extension".
|The group's cover image|
- the "tsunami" of investments flooding into Longevity Science
- the inspiring interview of Harvard professor David Sinclair by prof. Brian Kennedy
- the enzyme complex HTC that can inhibit cells from aging
- the Longevity Investors Conference
- the 170 or so longevity-science companies
- science conferences such as the 8th Aging Research & Drug Discovery Meeting or the End Age-Related Diseases 2021
- the 2018 World Health Organization move towards classifying aging as a disease
By the time I left GSK, the new group had grown to over 1,100 members - and I'm pleased to report that it inspired a number of colleagues, as well as university students considering career paths... and even got the attention of some top execs in the company.
I don't think that one can over-emphasize the importance of "rousing the sleeping giant" : that's of course a reference to the U.S. joining World War II (a fascinating topic I discuss in another blog entry.)
The Dawning of the Age of...
Aquarius? Maybe. But also the age of Mainstream for Longevity Science.
The importance of the Altos announcement goes well beyond the giant funding - important (obviously!) as that it... I personally think that this is a "seismic event" to bring longevity science into Mainstream with capital M!
It was one thing to have Hal Barron go from longevity companies (Calico) to big pharma... and a far bigger statement, imo, to go the other way 'round.
We are witnessing Longevity Science "coming of age" as Mainstream.
I shared the above sentiment with senior management at GSK, and was met with agreement.
I regard this juncture as a historical moment: the large funding of Altos, the
prominent (alleged) participation of Jeff Bezos, and the equally
prominent join at the helm of a big pharma Chief Science Officer! Plus a lot of other funding, rapid-fire research results, and a flurry of startup formation.
I've been waiting for this transition for a long time! When I wrote my first full article on Longevity Science, "mainstream" was not exactly the first word to came to mind - there was still an aura of "fringe" of science to fend off. During the intervening years, I've witnessed an incredible acceleration of advancement - and of entry into mainstream.
All said and done, I think we've finally left behind the era when Longevity Science was possibly regarded as "somewhat fringe", or "too out there", or "ahead of the times", or "extremely futuristic", etc!
Other Big Pharmas Hopping on the Train
I have no independent confirmation yet, but in a personal communication by a well-connected investor, whom I believe to be a reliable source, I was told that pharma giant Novartis is very interested in longevity science... and to some extent Roche also shares the interest.
Whether or not Big Pharma will actually lead innovation in Longevity Science, the "going mainstream" by itself is a major milestone!
Mainstream = funding, respect, academic participation, ditching the "cult-like" feel, completing the official reclassification of aging as a disease, etc.