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There is no cure for life, according to an old aphorism. Wealthy investors are more hopeful of extending average lifespans — perhaps indefinitely — despite years of disappointment.

OpenAI co-founder Sam Altman may be among those intending to thumb his nose at the Grim Reaper for longer. His reported $180mn investment in San Francisco’s Retro Bioscience proves that interest in anti-ageing start-ups remains healthy.

Most bioscience start-ups focus on healthier old age, though some are investigating immortality via cryopreservation. One recent Thiel Fellow, part of a group awarded $100,000 to drop out of formal education and start a company, plans to offer cryonics for pets too.

Ten years ago, Google created anti-ageing company Calico. Researchers there have sought ways to prevent age-related disease. Yet despite a 2014 partnership with US pharma company AbbVie, extended in 2021, Calico has yet to bring any drugs to the market. This year, chief scientific officer David Botstein retired, a bad look for an anti-ageing specialist.

Funding is not the problem. Altos Labs, backed by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, has raised $3bn to study cell rejuvenation.

Such rejuvenation remains theoretical. Average life expectancy around the world has increased over the past century thanks to vaccines and improvements in nutrition and sanitation. In the US, it dipped slightly in 2021 to 76.1 years, the lowest level since 1996.

Human life appears to have an upper limit that has yet to be extended. Anyone who makes it past 110 is doing remarkably well.

Some would-be centenarians believe lifestyle is the key to longevity, not drugs. They take their cue, with dubious logic, from rodents. A slow metabolism and low body temperature may explain the long lifespans of naked mole rats, for example.

Who wants to live forever? Longer active lives for everyone may be desirable. But even limited human immortality would further trash our overloaded planet. Wealthy investors should be careful what they wish for.

The Lex team is interested in hearing more from readers. Please tell us what you think of longevity start-ups in the comments section below



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