Billionaires now seek to unravel the mystery of anti-ageing; Jeff Bezos, in the forefront, funds anti-ageing biotech startup Altos Labs in 2021.
Jeff Bezos has done it again!
From time immortal, the human race has been in a quest of sorts to find a way to arrest ageing, reverse ageing, thus reach immortality. The Egyptians were the first that dabbled in their quest to turn themselves into timeless beauties; we have all heard of Cleopatra and her weird beauty regimes, right from crushing red beetles to lend the right red tint to her cheeks and mouth to bathing in milk and salt sea as a scrub. Her beauty regime was in tandem with wanting her appearance to exude beauty and the quest to arrest ageing.
Cut to 2021; the fact is that if one dwells deeper into Cleopatra’s beauty regime, most of the ingredients she used are still sought and used as part of ingredients in almost all cosmetic skin companies.
The latest to join this quest is Amazon‘s founder, now retired, and Blue Origin’s founder Jeff Bezos; he indeed comes out with unique ideas and concepts and takes a plunge into the unknown.
His latest venture and investment is in an anti-ageing research company working on reprogramming human cells.
It has been rumoured that Jeff Bezos has a fairly long-standing interest in longevity research; at 57 years, some say that it might just be a case of a mid-life crisis, or maybe he realized that he has too immense a fortune that he can spend in this lifetime.
After all, he has tasted immense success with Amazon. He also wears the tag of either the richest or the second richest man in the world, has a $ 200 billion fortune and has also achieved his long-standing dream of venturing into space.
Hence, it is only natural that his interest should take him to exciting ventures, and if that venture is about reversing the process of ageing he can have his cake and enjoy it too!
If he tastes success, it would put him in an even more dominating/ formidable space and thus, participating in the creation of a startup with fellow billionaires makes sense indeed.
However, this is not the first time that Jeff Bezos has invested in anti-ageing research; he had in 2018 financed a similar company – Unity Technologies which is still working on making anti-ageing therapies.
Introducing Altos Labs
Research-based company Altos Labs, founded in 2021, has claimed to have Jeff Bezos on board as one of their investors. The foundation of Altos Labs is fascinating in itself.
The name Altos Labs is a derivative from the Palo Alto mansion of a Russian investor and also a tech mogul Yuri Milner and the interesting bit is the fact that Altos Labs was first theorized here after a two–day conference.
The target of the company is to understand how biotechnology can be used to make people younger.
What Altos Labs intends to do?
The startup is looking to recruit some of the best university scientists to research how cells age and how to reverse the ageing process. Scientist Shinya Yamanaka first introduced the reprogramming technique in 2012, for which he had also won the Nobel Prize after he demonstrated the method in mice.
Taking it further from here, Altos Labs research would work on reprogramming which would involve adding proteins to a cell that essentially instruct it to revert to a stem–cell-like state.
Altos is said to be pursuing biological reprogramming technology, a way to rejuvenate cells in the lab that the recruited scientists think could be extended to revitalize entire animal bodies, ultimately helping in prolonging human life.
However, no official announcement has been made by Altos yet, but it has been incorporated this year in Delaware and as per the securities disclosure filed in California this year in June indicates that the company has raised approximately $270 million.
Apart from Bezos and Milner, it said that the company has also recruited other wealthy tech figures and venture capitalists as investors.
Who is Yuri Milner?
Now that we know that it was in Yuri Milner’s mansion in the Los Altos Hills above Palo Alto where the startup was conceptualized, Milner is a Russian – born billionaire who made a fortune on Facebook and Mail.ru. He is also known for starting the extravagant black-tie Breakthrough Prizes – $3 million awards given to outstanding mathematicians, physicists, and biologists each year.
Competitors in the Field
The quest for discovering anti-ageing is not new, and a number of startups have been dotting the scene that are pursuing reprogramming technology.
Some of the more prominent are Life Biosciences, Turn Biotechnologies, AgeX Therapeutics and Shift Bioscience in the UK. Although none of them have struck gold in this field, nor have they ventured on to any treatments tested on people in clinical trials.
What is the opinion of the medical and scientific community?
If one comes to think of it, one may question – it is as if the most serious concern that the world is facing is old age itself, but are we?
Suppose one was to ask a local practitioner or the common man himself. In that case, one may find that their immediate concern is not old age but diseases – Cancer, AIDS, Multiple sclerosis, Mental Illness and even Covid -19.
For a commoner, the thought of immortality makes little sense if he is not able to sustain himself and his family through tough times of financial despair, disease, stress and so on.
Hence, immortality is perhaps a thought engaging enough for those who have accumulated wealth that they cannot even think of spending entirely in this lifetime alone. Bezos understands that science has already succeeded in rejuvenating old mice, and thus if he were to invest in research of the same and if it were actually to work, he would perhaps be the first in line to try the same for himself.
Also, while preserving life is fundamental, rejuvenating is hugely personal. Think about it we have enough data around us that shows that people and not just celebrities and influencers but ordinary people like you and me who may not shy away from cosmetic procedures to take a few years of the face or the body. Some may even attain a completely new face since they do not like what they see in the mirror.
We have already reached the age where if we don’t like something, we have the resources to change, modify, or improve via a plastic surgeon, botox, fillers, etc.
Though what is stopping Jeff Bezos from trying any of these available fix-ups, just that it is accessible to people, and he may want to not disguise by surgery but rather go further and obliterate ageing for himself.
However, my questions only seem to grow in number –
- Wouldn’t the success of this technology only widen the gap between those who have wealth and those who don’t, for it would start the ultimate and the last leg of the race as to who lives and who doesn’t?
- Is this what we really need – even if the few who have wealth live on – what does it do for the immediate and more problematic diseases that plague the mortal man?
- If the technology is a success and is in the hands of the wealthy – what benefit will humanity derive if a person lives on for another 50 years? What would it mean?
- Also, the most important in my view – if planet earth is battling intense climate change-induced calamities that have the potential of eradicating life itself if we are not careful – what does anti-ageing technology mean?
Perhaps, we may have to build rockets that orbit Earth as living pods while Earth goes through its motions, though the question still is – it’s for the super-rich; what happens to the commoner?
Some researchers question whether reprogramming is a technology that can benefit from hundreds of millions in commercial investment.
Some experts also say investment in anti-ageing techniques is something government funding agencies cannot do quickly enough; hence, for now, it remains in the hands of those who have the wealth to invest in the same.