Why We Formed Human Longevity, Inc
On June 6th, 1944, Allied forces stormed the beaches of Normandy, France, finally turning the tide of the deadliest war in history against the Axis powers and restoring hope for the Allied nations. Months later, in November of 1944, Franklin D. Roosevelt took the first steps in creating what would become the National Science Foundation to capitalize on this pioneering spirit inherent in the planning and execution of D-Day, to combat a more lethal foe, disease, and the causes of premature death: “The fact that the annual deaths in this country from one or two diseases alone are far in excess of the total number of lives lost by us in battle during this war should make us conscious of the duty we owe future generations.”Now, 70 years later, we have formed Human Longevity, Inc., with that same pioneering resolve in order to address the results of this enhanced focus on scientific discovery by developing products that will solve the most urgent challenges emerging from the dramatic increase in life expectancy around the world.
To many, this is an audacious goal. The increase in global life expectancy has been accompanied by an increase in the number of people with diseases ranging from autoimmune disorders, cancer, HIV and Alzheimer’s, which to many appear to be insurmountable obstacles.
But where others see aging as an inevitable degradation of function, we believe that the same vivacity characteristic of youth can be maintained throughout a person’s entire life.
Since the early 1940s, the pace of medical innovation has accelerated with an increasing velocity. In that time life expectancy has more than doubled in America and around the world, with emerging nations gaining years at twice the pace of Western nations. Since 1965, the increase in longevity in developing countries has increased income by nearly 400 percent. Most of these gains are due to the reduction in the number of deaths caused by infectious, respiratory and digestive diseases, congenital and perinatal conditions. Infants born prematurely, who once suffered devastating and often fatal conditions such as poor brain development and blindness, now live full and productive lives.
So, it was no surprise that after we battled and greatly reduced the global incidence of infectious disease, demographers predicted that chronic illnesses (which have replaced acute infections as the leading source of morbidity and death) would impose a limit on how long we could live. Economists have predicted since the 1970s that an aging population would bankrupt us and suck resources from the economy if we didn’t encourage people to die after an ‘agreed upon’ age such as 80.
Yet, just the opposite has happened. People are aging with fewer disabilities. Sickness is being compressed into the final years of life even as we live longer. We live more, love more, learn more and earn more. The phrase “live long and prosper” takes on a whole new meaning when one considers the beneficial economic impacts of a healthier aged population.
Many people have characterized our venture as a sequencing or diagnostic business. However, the tools we will develop will be designed to attack the sources of premature death at the genomic and molecular level and can be used to preserve and enhance cognitive function, physical capacity and overall vitality.
Craig recently noted that: “Life is based on DNA software. We’re a DNA software system, you change the DNA software, and you change the species. It’s a remarkably simple concept, remarkably complex in its execution.” Expanding on this Bob has added, “Since our biologic software resides in the nucleus, one can view the contents of the cell as a type of processor for that software and the cell membrane as the keyboard, allowing for external inputs which ultimately influence the manner in which that code is read and compiled.”
The execution is, we believe, something that will work to reduce disability and disease. Our work in stem cells has shown that if you can identify and measure individual variation for specific markers of disease at a particular age, you can identify the factors that predict the variability in the transformation of cells over one’s lifetime. Then, using the DNA software, we can tailor treatments to the way in which each individual develops a disease.
To achieve this, we had to create a commercial venture. Some press accounts claim that we are engaging in ‘big science’ and will compete with other institutes that are creating their own sequencing centers.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Our collective experience reflects a disdain for the NIH (Not Invented Here) approach to research. We recognize that most discoveries are the result of small groups taking completely novel approaches and sharing their findings. The late Nobel laureate Joshua Lederberg noted that inter-disciplinary effort and other innovations are discouraged and hard to sustain because in the US, support for science is too much tied to specific, pre-approved projects. Instead, we are going to identify the most creative people and give them the freedom to make their own affiliations, eliminating the need to reapply for federal grants and distancing ourselves from the existing system that rewards consensus and punishes entrepreneurship.
All of us have ventured, failed and succeeded by seeking to answer scientific questions based in real world experience and offering solutions. We all took paths that were ridiculed and rejected by established scientific institutions. Craig sailed around the world in a boat considered too frail to make the journey. Bob and Peter have raced rocket-powered airplanes to show that space travel could be available to millions of people in the future.
We are interested in innovations that benefit the many. Sir Harold Evans has observed that innovators are ultimately “creative democratizers” who make it “possible for the whole population to enjoy goods and services previously available only to the elite.” And to this end, our venture seeks to make healthy aging scalable. To solve a problem anywhere, it must and can be solved everywhere.
We embark on this voyage with both a sense of optimism and obligation. To stand, as our fathers’ generation did 70 years ago, in the face of a seemingly invincible enemy, and persevere in hopes of once again changing the world. In the words of Franklin D. Roosevelt: “New frontiers of the mind are before us, and if they are pioneered with the same vision, boldness, and drive with which we have waged this war we can create a fuller and more fruitful employment and a fuller and more fruitful life.” We believe that we are just at the beginning of our ability to use technology to improve wellbeing, protect the planet and promote exploration. We welcome everyone to join us in this exciting endeavor.
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