September 7, 2015
A growing number of tech moguls are trying to solve their biggest problem yet: aging.
From reprogramming DNA to printing organs, some of Silicon Valley’s most successful and wealthy leaders are investing in biomedical research and new technologies with hopes of discovering the secret to living longer.
And their investments are beginning to move the needle, said Zoltan Istvan, a futurist and transhumanist presidential candidate.
“I think a lot of the most important work in longevity is coming from a handful of the billionaires,” Istvan told Tech Insider. “There are approximately six or seven billionaires that are very interested in life extension, and they are putting in $40 [million], $50 [million], $100 million out there every year or every few years into this stuff. It makes a big difference when you have these legendary figures saying, ‘Hey, we can do this.'”
Here are some of those billionaires investing in antiaging and longevity research and development:
Tristan Fewings/Getty Images
Peter Thiel, the billionaire cofounder of PayPal, is known for his early investment in Facebook, but now he is betting big on biotech. Thiel said he believes antiaging medicine is “structurally unexplored,” according to a report from MIT Technology Review.
“The way people deal with aging is a combination of acceptance and denial,” he told Technology Review in March. “They accept there is nothing they can do about it, and deny it’s going to happen to them.”
Thiel takes hormone growth daily and is planning to participate in cryonic freezing after his death, according to the Technology Review report.
The 47-year-old isn’t accepting or denying it, though. He has invested heavily to try to fight death for the last several years. Back in 2006, he pledged $3.5 million to the Methuselah Foundation, a nonprofit group working on life extension by advancing tissue engineering and regenerative medicine.
Thiel has also heavily invested in biotech companies. Most of his investments in the space are made via his Thiel Foundation. But at least five investments — including the DNA laser-printing company Cambrian Genomics and cancer-drug developer Stemcentrx — via his venture capital firm Founder Fund.
He has also invested $17 million sine 2011 in Counsyl, a company that offers DNA screening.
AP Photo/Eric Risberg
The founder of Oracle has said he wishes to live forever and is an avid financial supporter into antiaging research.
The Ellison Medical Foundation, which, according to its website “supports basic biomedical research on aging relevant to understanding lifespan development processes and age-related diseases and disabilities,” has donated about $430 million in grants to medical researchers since 1997, about 80% of which has been focused on antiaging developments.
“Death has never made any sense to me. How can a person be there and then just vanish, just not be there?” Ellison told his biographer Mike Wilson in 2003.
The cofounder of Google and CEO of Alphabet also founded Calico in 2013. Calico, short for “California Life Company,” focuses on antiaging research. In 2014, the company announced it had an investment of $750 million from Google.
Since its launch, Calico has also entered into several partnerships with different organizations to help it cure aging.
Most recently, Calico announced in April that it was teaming up with the Buck Institute for Research on Aging, one of the largest independent, antiaging research organizations.
In 2013, the group garnered some attention for using genetic mutations to increase the lifespan of earthworms to the human equivalent of 400 to 500 years.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Sergey Brin, cofounder of Google, has also made big investments in antiaging technology.
The 41-year-old has taken a particular interest in curing Parkinson’s disease. Brin disclosed in 2008 that he carried a gene that puts him at higher risk of developing the disease. He has donated more than $150 million to find a cure for the disease.
For Brin, big data could hold the key to better understanding DNA and preventing neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s.
Brin, now president of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, also pushed for medical research while he headed up Google X, the company’s semisecret moonshot lab.
One of the division borne out of that lab was the Life Science team, which focused on developing things like a glucose-detecting contact lens.
In August, Brin announced that the Life Sciences team would now be its own company under Alphabet and continue to work on “new technologies from early stage R&D to clinical testing — and, hopefully — transform the way we detect, prevent, and manage disease.”
Last year, Andrew Conrad, head of the new Life Sciences division, said that the team was also working on a treatment that would embed nanoparticles in your bloodstream to detect for diseases like cancer.
In June, during a frank Facebook Q&A, Stephen Hawking asked Mark Zuckerberg what big questions in science he’d like to know the answer to and why.
“I’m most interested in questions about people. What will enable us to live forever? How do we cure all diseases? How does the brain work? How does learning work and how we can empower humans to learn a million times more?” Zuckerberg replied.
Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, along with Brin and his ex-wife Anne Wojcicki, are also founders of the Breakthrough Prize, which awards $3 million to scientists who discover new ways to extend human life.
For Sean Parker, cofounder of Napster and first president of Facebook, investing in technologies that can extend life is personal.
According to a report from The Washington Post, Parker suffers from life-threatening food allergies and has relatives that suffer from autoimmune disorders.
The 34-year-old billionaire has donated millions to searching for a cure for allergies and for cancer research, according to the report.