Google Wants To Extend Your LifeApril 2014
By Michael Downey
Google has announced that it is about to devote a chunk of its vast financial, technological, and creative resources to solving a daunting problem— mortality.1
With sufficient funding, it has been estimated that the benefits of discovering how to slow down the basic aging process could be realized within a few years!2
But tragically, while both government and private funds are generously allocated to finding cures for age-related diseases,3 funding has been lacking for research into how we may be able to cure aging itself—by intervening directly in the biological aging process.
Although the world’s 1,426 billionaires4 could easily fund their own rescue from the horrific consequences of aging, very few have demonstrated the clear vision and self-interest to do so.
This article looks at how Google’s bold venture—marrying long-range thinking, guts, technology, big data, and genomics—may act as a catalyst that ultimately unlocks some secrets to slowing or reversing aging. At the least, it may help indirectly by boosting, among the extremely wealthy, the popularity of private funding of longevity research.
Google Shines New Spotlight On Anti-Aging Research
Google—the highly successful search, email, and tech giant—plans to launch Calico, a distinctly separate, and somewhat mysterious, biotech company.1 What will Calico do, exactly? At this point, Google is being highly secretive about their plans for Calico. All Google would reveal is that Calico will focus “in particular on the challenge of aging and associated diseases.”1
Google CEO Larry Page explained: “With some longer term, moonshot thinking around healthcare and biotechnology, I believe we can improve millions of lives.”5 Considering Google’s deep pockets and innovation-based track record—and the fact that aging afflicts everyone—that may be an understatement.
Don’t expect other companies to follow suit just yet. Smaller firms don’t have the money. And larger firms generally don’t have the sufficiently long-range view of profitability to pursue what Page calls “moon shots”5,6 —outside-the-box research not focused on immediately obvious product potential.6
But Calico could produce startlingly counterintuitive breakthroughs as a result of Google’s strengths in the following areas:
- Non-commercial dedication — rather than a focus on commercial marketing of mediocre drugs as pharmaceutical companies now do.
- Vast consumer access and core data-handling skills — with unprecedented data gathering, pattern-matching, and causal-relationship detection.
- Ability to attract the brightest minds — potentially preferring to work on life-and-death problems instead of cutesy apps and games.
Most important? Calico is extremely unlikely to suffer from inadequate funding. Its parent, Google, has a cash stockpile of over $54 billion.7
Will Calico help defeat aging? That’s anybody’s guess. But there’s a more pressing question.
The government is in a position to massively fund anti-aging research. So are some well-capitalized corporations. And the world’s billionaires have a total net worth of $5.4 trillion.4 Yet extremely little funding flows into longevity research from any of these sources.
So the real question is: Why can’t they see that making the kind of pro-longevity investment that Google is making would be in their own personal self-interest?
Why Isn’t Much More Funding Available?
Much of the answer seems to be self-defeating assumptions. The government doesn’t consider aging to be a disease.3 And corporate executives and most billionaires consider slowing the aging process to be unfeasible. It’s important to educate the public to the fact that aging is like cancer—a deadly disease for which a cure can eventually be found.
Many institutional researchers view anti-aging as after-the-fact treatments for the disabling and cosmetic effects of aging. The goal of regenerative medicine, however, is developing a process that “replaces or regenerates human cells, tissues, or organs to restore or establish normal function.”8 In other words, the goal is to prevent or cure all of the effects of degeneration due to aging.
Insufficiently persistent and vocal advocacy for any goal limits its funding, so corporations and venture capitalists focus only on immediate development of products. Billionaires focus on other causes. And government money—as you’ll now learn—is limited and misallocated.
Did You Really Think The Government Was Funding Life Extension Research?
In 2010, out of its total yearly budget of $31 billion, the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) sets aside a mere 3.7% for the National Institute on Aging (NIA), which is charged with studying aging.9 In turn, the NIA spends 71% of that amount (or $818.6 million) specifically on research project grants.10
But these research projects include single-disease focused projects such as Alzheimer’s disease and are not the same as life span-extension research.
The NIA’s aging research goal is to “discover new and effective ways to make added years as healthy and productive as possible.”10
Translation? The NIA is interested in potentially making your later years healthier—but is not interested in adding more of those years. Shouldn’t the goal be slowing down aging itself, rather than targeting age-related diseases one by one? Tragically, government bureaucrats apparently believe pathological aging and death cannot—or should not—be prevented.3
Worse, the NIA funds only “extramural research at universities, research centers, and medical centers…as well as a vibrant intramural research program at NIA laboratories.”10 Bottom line? Radical scientists pursuing paradigm-shifting, “moon shot” breakthroughs—but who are not working in straitjacketed institutional settings with conservative traditions—need not apply.
Most frustrating is that the research cost of researching ways to slow the basic process of biological aging has been estimated at a mere$3 billion in annual investment—which would be required for just a few years in order to derive benefit!2 In terms of government spending on health research, this is very little money.
This amount is 40% less than the funds spent exclusively on cancer research every year by the National Cancer Institute alone.11 Yet aging is a major risk factor for cancer, and retarding the aging process could dramatically slash cancer rates!
Another way of looking at the $3 billion needed to conquer aging is this: It’s equal to around just 1% of the recent Medicare budget.2 Yet delaying aging would more than pay for itself in reduced healthcare costs!2
So if you think your many tax dollars are going towards true anti-aging research, think again!
Hundreds Of Billions Donated By Wealthy—But Not For Anti-Aging Research
Without government funding, finding a $3 billion annual investment to defeat aging seems daunting, even if required only for a few years.2 The best remaining hope is to educate wealthy individuals about the possibilities—and mobilize them.
Meaningful life extension success will require extremely wealthy individuals who are interested in their own health and longevity and who see the charitable benefit for all humans. Until now, only a very few wealthy individuals have stepped forward…far too few.
It seems odd that so few billionaires care enough about their own process of aging to death to do anything about it. More likely, they simply don’t believe anything can be done—being potentially ignorant of the state of life extension science and the promises of rejuvenation biotechnology.
It’s certainly not that the extremely wealthy aren’t charitable. Some donate half of their wealth to a variety of favorite causes unrelated to extending life span.12 Bill Gates and Warren Buffet have asked about 40 of the world’s richest individuals to sign the Giving Pledge, a commitment to donate at least 50% of their fortunes to charities. Signatories include filmmaker George Lucas, hotel mogul Barron Hilton, and oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens.12
Most of these vast sums go to social, environmental, or narrowly defined disease causes. Although these philanthropies benefit some, anti-aging research would benefit everyone on the planet—including these sponsors—making it the most far-reaching of all charities.
A cancer cure would benefit only those stricken with cancer. And a complete cure for all cancers would increase overall human life expectancy by just three years!13
A study published in October 2013 found that even modest, early gains in slowing aging would decrease diseases of aging so much that a 51-year-old could expect to gain over twice the number of healthy years as could be gained from even optimistic advances against individual fatal diseases, such as cancer or heart disease!14
This new model found that investing in delayed aging would increase the number of healthy adults over age 65 by over11 million by 2060—while investing in cures for aging diseases would have an effect barely better than doing nothing at all!14
Bottom line? Donations towards specific diseases are not significantly relevant to our future life span, or even health span.
Only a few rare billionaires have funded research from which all humans stand to benefit.
A Few Billionaires ‘Get It’ And Step Forward
Larry Ellison , cofounder and CEO of software giant Oracle, said that he intends to donate at least 95% of his considerable wealth to charitable causes and has “already given hundreds of millions of dollars to medical research and education.”15
After its inception in 1998, the Ellison Medical Foundation became the largest private funder of research on aging and the second overall funder—second only to the NIA. It provided over $300 million to fund biomedical research on aging, life span, and age-related diseases and disabilities—including telomeres, longevity genes, DNA and mitochondrial damage, Alzheimer’s disease, neural development, degeneration, cognitive decline, and more.
Unfortunately, that’s all changed now.
In 2010, Ellison signed The Giving Pledge.16 Just three years later, in September 2013—after 15 years of funding basic biomedical research—the Ellison Foundation announced that it has stopped funding these programs.17 No new grant applications will be accepted and the hundreds of millions that would’ve financed anti-aging research will now go to an unspecified “new direction.”17
No reason was given. But it is a safe wager Ellison has failed to see, or believe in, the profound impact his donations could eventually have had on his own rescue from the devastating effects of aging—along with all of mankind.
Fortunately, a few other billionaires still support anti-aging study.
Peter Thiel , cofounder of PayPal, funneled several million dollars into the dynamic SENS Research Foundation.18,19 The pioneer biomedical gerontologist Aubrey de Grey serves as Chief Science Officer for SENS, which stands for Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence. This crucial research focuses on a collection of proposed techniques to rejuvenate the human body—with the ambitious, long-range goal of reversing biological aging!
Thiel explained his SENS pledge this way: “I believe that [de Grey’s] revolutionary approach to aging research will accelerate [greatly improved longevity], allowing many people alive today to enjoy radically longer and healthier lives.”18
David H. Murdock , chairman and sole owner of Dole Food Company Inc.—drawing on his $2.4 billion net worth20,21—finances the North Carolina Research Campus (NCRC).
NCRC focuses on the therapeutic powers of fresh plants, fruits, and vegetables in hopes of unlocking information about how these foods promote health and may one day conquer the diseases of aging.21
So unlike SENS, Murdock’s funding of NCRC does not support research specifically on biological aging.
At last, Google’s pending entry into the anti-aging field stands to transform the funding landscape.
Calico — Rare Corporate Funding For Anti-Aging Research
“Now is the right time for a commercial entity to get heavily involved,” explains de Grey, commenting on Google’s recent announcement.22
“One of the key activities of SENS Research Foundation…is proof-of-concept research on key components of the anti-aging arsenal that are still too early-stage to constitute an attractive business proposition for all but the most visionary investors… [but] our ultimate goal is to kick-start a real anti-aging industry.”22
Calico’s founding suggests that goal is in sight.
Calico is shorthand for California Life Company. But incoming Calico CEO Arthur Levinson, a scientist with a PhD in biochemistry, likes the image of a calico cat23 — with nine lives. Levinson says that when approached about this venture, “I was deeply intrigued. For example, what underlies aging? Might there be a direct link between certain diseases and the aging process? We agreed that with great people, a strong culture and vision, and a healthy disregard for the impossible, we could make progress tackling these questions…”23
Google’s Page says, “…it’s still very early so there’s not much more to share yet,” but his commitment comes through. “Art [Levinson] and I are excited about tackling aging and illness. These issues affect us all… [and] …exact a terrible physical and emotional toll on individuals and families…this is clearly a longer-term bet...”24
Well, first, a “longer-term bet” is exactly what anti-aging research demands. Second, the involvement of Google should generate shorter-term effects on funding that ultimately may shorten that time-frame.
Google constitutes a high-profile player, attracting media attention at every turn. If Google does it, you know it’s big. The bigger the player, the more important its support becomes, because boosting funding for anti-aging research requires supercharging its image—which is sadly disconnected from merit and utility. So in the unlikely event that Calico turns out to be a massive failure, it will have raised awareness of the urgency of this research and attracted brilliant scientists to the field.
Inspired by the higher profile that Google brings to anti-aging, more billionaires might realize that the most charitable thing they can do—for others and themselves—is fund anti-aging research. If you can do that, it would be foolish not to. What do you have to lose?
To help, we need to use Google’s example to reach out to wealthy individuals and encourage them to support aggressive research to find a cure for aging—if not for our own benefit, for the gift we can bestow on our children.
Aubrey de Grey has long recognized that the urgent need for ramped-up financing for the war on aging is greatly dependent on winning the battle for the hearts and minds of “high-profile academics who occupy the pinnacle of opinion-formation.”22 We need to enlighten them about this quest’s feasibility.
He believes now that, “With Google’s decision to direct its astronomical resources to a concerted assault on aging, that battle may have been transcended: once financial limitations are removed, curmudgeons no longer matter.”22
“I won’t go so far as to say that my crusading job is done, but for sure it just got a whole lot easier.”22
Google plans to launch the firm Calico, through which it will invest some of its vast financial and creative resources to help solve the daunting problem of aging.1
With an investment in biological aging research of just $3 billion annually, it is estimated that discovering a way to retard the aging process might be achieved in just a few years!2
Tragically, while the government spends over $3 billion annually on “health concerns” of the elderly,9,10 it operates on the assumption that aging is not a disease.3 Corporations lack the longer-term view needed. And extremely few of the world’s 1,426 billionaires,4 with a total net worth of $5.4 trillion,4 have included anti-aging research in their charities.
Google’s bold venture may be the urgently needed catalyst that finally encourages the government, other companies, and more of the extremely wealthy to fund research into slowing biological aging—unlocking the secrets to reversing aging.
If you have any questions on the scientific content of this article, please call a Life Extension® Health Advisor at 1-866-864-3027.
- Available at: http://googlepress.blogspot.ca/2013/09/calico-announcement.html. Accessed December 27, 2013.
- Available at: http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/future_tense/2010/11/a_wrinkle_in_time.3.html. Accessed December 27, 2013.
- Available at http://www.reuters.com/article/2010/05/20/us-ageing-disease-idUSTRE64I6HV20100520. Accessed December 27, 2013.
- Available at: http://www.forbes.com/billionaires/. Accessed December 27, 2013.
- Available at: http://www.cnn.com/2013/10/03/tech/innovation/google-calico-aging-death/. Accessed December 31, 2013.
- Available at: http://www.google.com/about/jobs/lifeatgoogle/thinking-big-larry-page.html. Accessed December 27, 2013.
- Available at: http://www.brw.com.au/p/tech-gadgets/five_things_tech_companies_could_U14RqMjrNXObNcfmY6qz0N. Accessed December 27, 2013.
- Mason C, Dunnill P. A brief definition of regenerative medicine. Regen Med. 2008 Jan;3(1):1-5.
- Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/29/health/policy/29geriside.html?_r=0. Accessed January 2, 2014.
- Available at: http://www.nia.nih.gov/sites/default/files/fy2014_budget_request.pdf. Accessed December 27, 2013.
- Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/NCI/research-funding. Accessed December 27, 2013.
- Available at: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704017904575409193790337162.html. Accessed December 27, 2013.
- Available at: http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/future_tense/2010/11/a_wrinkle_in_time.2.html. Accessed December 27, 2013.
- Goldman DP, Cutler D, Rowe JW, et al. Substantial health and economic returns from delayed aging may warrant a new focus for medical research. Health Aff. October 2013;32(10):1698-705.
- Available at: http://news.cnet.com/8301-13860_3-20012631-56.html. Accessed December 27, 2013.
- Available at: http://www.sfgate.com/business/article/Ellison-joins-billionaire-charity-pledge-3256762.php. Accessed December 27, 2013.
- Available at: http://announcements.ovpr.uga.edu/announcements/ellison-medical-foundation-discontinues-funding-programs/. Accessed December 27, 2013.
- Available at: http://www.mprize.org/index.php?pagename=newsdetaildisplay&ID=0107. Accessed December 27, 2013.
- Available at: http://www.forbes.com/profile/peter-thiel/. Accessed December 27, 2013.
- Available at: http://www.forbes.com/profile/david-murdock/. Accessed December 27, 2013.
- Available at: http://www.ncresearchcampus.net/resources/fact_sheet/DHMRI.pdf. Accessed December 27, 2013.
- Available at: http://ideas.time.com/2013/09/18/finally-the-war-on-aging-has-truly-begun-2/. Accessed December 27, 2013.
- Available at: https://plus.google.com/108880830087528406119/posts. Accessed December 27, 2013.
- Available at: https://plus.google.com/+LarryPage/posts/Lh8SKC6sED1. Accessed December 27, 2013.
- Available at: http://www.abc27.com/story/23635050/study-aging-not-disease-for-real-benefits-scientists-say. Accessed January 3, 2014.