No feasible amount of funding that could be devoted to the research and development of rejuvenation therapies would be too much. If near all other projects were dropped, and institutions radically retooled on a short term basis, then the world might be able to devote $300 billion per year into medical research and development aimed at aging. That is an unachievable upper bound, of course. Given a few decades in which to train new researchers while rapidly and radically expanding existing institutions, then humanity might start to approach that scale of expenditure. Realistically it will take 20-30 years following the first unarguable successes in human rejuvenation for the economic incentives to meaningful start in on the creation of a suitably vast industry. Progress on this scale takes time.
The cost of the medical conditions, suffering, and mortality caused by aging, meanwhile, is staggeringly large. Researchers have estimated that slowing aging by one year worldwide is worth $38 trillion in productivity gains. Direct and easily measured medical and productivity costs of aging are more than $1 trillion per year in the US alone. Looking at the common estimates of the economic worth of a human life, the cost of the yearly death toll due to aging is well over $100 trillion, a vast destruction of the value of living individuals, their knowledge and capacity to make the world a better place. No feasible amount of funding devoted to achieving medical control over aging could be enough, given these numbers.
Tiday’s short article is a fairly standard call for the US government to do more for a favored cause. Its novelty is that the cause is human longevity, the medical control of aging. The various patient advocacy, investor, academic, and biotechnology industry factions interested in the development of the means to treat aging have not yet developed an earnest lobbying arm – and are perhaps not yet large enough to produce more than the few initiatives that have emerged to date, such as the Longevity Dividend. It isn’t only governments that fund medical research and development, however. Philanthropy and industry are just as important, and just as capable of contributions at the large scale.
There has been tremendous progress in understanding aging and showing that it is possible to reverse it, and there is a growing longevity industry validating the approach to treat aging directly. Researchers are using a variety of approaches, from drugs that get rid of old cells to gene and stem cell therapies. Institutions researching aging include the nonprofit SENS Research Foundation, David Sinclair’s lab at Harvard, and biotech companies including Calico (a sister company of Google), Rejuvenate Bio, BioAge, Cambrian, Unity Biotechnology, Juvenescence, Retro Biosciences, and Oisin Biotechnologies.
Both donors and investors see promise in reversing aging. However, there is research that the private sector will not do on its own because investors seek quick returns and donors have only so much money. It has taken seven years to fundraise for clinical trials to see if metformin slows down aging. And there has been more research in mice than in people, partly because clinical trials for people cost more. Basic research is risky, expensive, and without a certain payoff, so important research goes undone because the private sector is unwilling to fund it. The government needs to fill in the gap.
If we discovered a cure for aging, it would make society much wealthier, and the benefits to mankind would be enormous. Increasing life expectancy by one year alone by slowing down aging is worth $38 trillion, according to a recent study-more than the entire national debt of $29 trillion. Finding a cure for aging would significantly boost GDP by allowing people to work for longer. It would also lower the national debt, because higher GDP would lead to more tax revenue, and less would need to be spent on Medicare and Social Security because people would be healthier for longer.
Unfortunately, aging receives only 6% of government health research funding. There has been far more government spending on treating individual diseases, but as Vijay Pande and Kristen Fortney wrote for Andreessen Horowitz, curing cancer would add only four years to the average lifespan “because another major killer like stroke would be just around the corner. Only by targeting aging itself can we make significant impact on improving quality of life and healthspan.” It would be more valuable to find a cure for aging than for individual diseases like cancer because it would stop those diseases from materializing in the first place. You’re at much greater risk of cancer and Alzheimer’s at age 70 than at age 30, and a cure for aging could fundamentally change that. U.S. life expectancy has been roughly stagnant, rising only 7% since 1980. We should target life expectancy as an important measure of national well-being, in addition to GDP. A cure for aging would boost life expectancy far more than finding a cure for individual diseases because aging increases people’s risk of disease.