Fountains of youth: Biotech startups emerge from stealth mode to ‘take on aging’

Hedge fund manager Tristan Edwards resolved to “take on aging” by developing drugs to stretch human life, he scoured the globe for top scientists. His search led to a 2016 phone call with David Sinclair.

Along with Sinclair, he is tco-founderder and chief executive of Life Biosciences, an ambitious and rapidly growing Boston company that seeks to boost longevity and dominate an emerging industry

Adam Neumann, cofounded WeWork, is largest backer.

More than a dozen other ventures — including a pair of California startups, Google-backed Calico and Unity Biotechnology, funded by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos — are competing in the life-extension space. The companies are cropping up at a time when scientists have identified many pathways that influence aging, said Eric Verdin, president of the Buck Institute for Research on Aging in Novato, Calif., which spun out Unity Biotechnology. Verdin said it’s too early to know which companies or drugs will emerge from their efforts.

“There are more pathways than we have the resources to pursue,” Verdin said. “People used to think of aging as a process of atrophy. It was very hard to imagine what you could do to fix it. Over the last 20 years, scientists have gone to work and found mutations that control aging. Now that we know the pathways, the field is moving toward doing something about them.”

Jay Olshansky, public health professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, supports such efforts but cautions against expectations they will radically lengthen life spans. Instead, he said, the aim should be “pushing out the red zone,” the time of frailty and disability at the end of life.

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