Sunday, July 20, 2008

Next big VC market: life extension?

Life extension is a growing market and could be the next significant industry targeted by Venture Capitalists and private investment as alternative energy and clean tech eventually wane. The opportunity is made obvious by continuous soaring costs in the world’s largest industry, healthcare, unfunded Medicare type liabilities in every industrialized country, and the demographic aging of populations and below replacement fertility rates together with massive demand and willingness to spend on longevity remedies.

What is the Life Extension Market?
The life extension market is the commercialization of scientific findings from stem cell, immunology, cancer, regenerative medicine and other areas of research. The research linkage between products and research will hopefully become stronger and more standardized. For example, many longevity remedies available today claim scientific support. This research could and should be linked to the products online (23andme is a nice example of research linkage) so consumers and other interested parties can research the products themselves. Bloggers and other independent intermediary watchdogs could synthesize the scientific research and confirm or deny the product claims.

Longevity Docs Needed
It is not clear that traditional physicians will be those prescribing longevity remedies. Specialist longevity docs are needed and will likely arise and market themselves as such, there are a few examples of this today. Most traditional physicians do not currently have expertise in new areas such as longevity and personalized genomics, or the enhancement and prevention vs. cure mindset.

Supplements, Hormones and Enzymes
The first step in life extension treatments is supplements, ranging from a daily multivitamin to the 200 or more supplements per day taken by futurist Ray Kurzweil. The next step is hormone and enzyme replacement therapies, which must generally be overseen by a physician. A variety of treatments have been undertaken per the shifting legal climate, not everyone wanting to be restored to the hormonal levels of their twenties and other reasons.

Longevity Social Network
It would be great to have a health social network (HSN), like PatientsLikeMe and CureTogether for the longevity community. First, people could share the different interventions they are trying. Second, they could upload their ongoing bio-marker test data into an aggregated electronic health record, similar to what Google Health is contemplating, to track and possibly share the impact of the interventions. Third, companies with research and therapies targeting this market could contact an aggregated group to propose field studies, clinical trials and offerings. For example, the 23andme Parkinson’s community has been contacted for such research.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Mobile surveillance?

Are location-based services (LBS) quickly becoming the next FaceBook? Loopt would be one prominent example. As the number of Internet-enabled and GPS-enabled mobile phones proliferates with the spread of the iPhone and the two-year upgrade cycle for mobile devices, about 45% of mobile devices in the U.S. now have wireless broadband access. Local search and other mobile applications can finally be realized.

Location-based services, also called location-aware services, are about finding out what is nearby and who is nearby.

The what is fairly straightforward. This is more granular and possibly dynamic information about the places nearby; restaurant and store reviews, movie times, historical information for self-tours, etc. and the ability to take action, to make reservations, buy tickets, etc.

The who is related to people you know and people you don’t know. One social application is enabling your geographical location to be seen to friends in your network so they can easily find you. Another application is chat networks for people that are nearby, waiting somewhere for example, that would like to meet or just chat anonymously. There are also public-space interaction projects, games, art, etc. where people can use their cell phones to interact with a billboard or display, playing a video game against someone else in Times Square or making billboard art, either directly with call or text input or ambient algorithms following network participants as they pass through the area.

Age-tiering of technology
Twenty-somethings may be happy to permission their friend network to see where they are and senior-monitoring could be desirable but are age tiers 30-70 as interested in this functionality? Is the last modicum of privacy breached when your friends and family can see that you are at the gym, the dry cleaner, not at your office, etc. or is it too plebeian to care if everyone does it? Cell phones mean we can be reached everywhere, but do we want to be seen everywhere?

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Twittering Dante

Is medium sacred or could any content be served up in any medium? As vast content libraries are increasingly available on the web, content consumption should take whatever form is convenient and preferable to the user.

There is user-generated content and user-specified content is the next logical step. The amount of content available in multiple forms is growing, some examples are Audible books, and talks and interviews presented as transcripts, podcasts and videos.

User-specified content
In a robust platform, users could select content topic, format, level, detail tier and social dimension. Content topic is the main parameter chosen at present. Delivery formats could range from the text formats of book, academic paper, article, blog post and tweet to the multimedia formats of audio, video, slidecast, video game, etc. The level of content could be most basically popular vs. expert. The detail tier could be summary, outline, article, full detail and annotated version. Social dimension would include comments and reviews by others. These could all be drop-down menus at the top of Wikipedia.

Medium purists will insist that the only way to view the Mona Lisa is to hike up to the humid corridor at the Louvre and squeeze in to peer at the small canvas with the rest of the crowd but others are moving with the times. Who will be the first entrepreneur to do a twelevator pitch - twitter a business plan - to a VC, which VC will be the first to request twelevator pitches? If you can't explain your business in 140 characters or less, fahgetaboutit!

New literacy content and medium synesthesia
The new literacy is that the educated person of today is able to express ideas in a variety of media – in some combination of the traditional reading and writing AND in computer programs, 3d virtual worlds, synthetic biology, video games, 3d printing and visual storytelling. Does the new literacy mean that there could be a representation of all content in all media? Is there an opera of Cornell fab@home objects? What does an Indiana Jones movie look like in synthetic biology? What is a kinesthetic experience of protein folding?

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Status of Research on Human Aging

Longevity is the new alternative energy
With $10m quickly raised by the Methuselah Foundation, VCs just beginning to see the opportunity and continually soaring healthcare costs, the longevity market could easily become as big as the alternative energy/climate change solutions market has become now.

Longevity research status
Grossly generalizing, the main focus in aging research is figuring out how to get processes that already occur, in the young and in cancer for example, to occur at other times, in the old. The optimum approach may include both reverse engineering and forward engineering in the form of synthetic biology as has been successful in other biological research areas like gene synthesis.

Aging is multidisciplinary, comprising at minimum the study of stem cells, immunology, cancer, DNA damage, tissue engineering, genetic engineering, regenerative medicine and micronutrients.

A comprehensive collection of anti-aging research findings was presented at the Aging 2008 conference June 27-29 at UCLA. The current developmental stage of aging research is early, perhaps in the second inning. Groundwork is being laid, phenomena are being documented, understanding of general mechanisms is sought, existing processes are being enumerated and early cycles of testing have begun primarily on flies and mice.

The seven primary causes of aging are DNA mutations in the cell nucleus and mitochondria, junk that builds up inside and outside cells, cells sticking together and cell loss and death. These are described at length, together with potential solutions, in aging research pioneer Aubrey de Grey’s book, Ending Aging and in the journal Rejuvenation Research. De Grey’s organization, the Methuselah Foundation, provides grants to anti-aging researchers. Some of the freshest thinking so far has included biomedical remediation, therapeutic organisms purpose-catalyzed in the body and the possibility of removing the overly-prone-to-damage mitochondrial DNA.

Generalized summary of Aging 2008 research findings:

  • Applying (non-individual specific) substances from the young to the old appears to work
  • With aging, not only does "good stuff" (cells, processes, etc.) decline but "bad stuff" also arises
  • The quality of the biological environment facilitates or inhibits activity and repair
  • Treatments may be most effective when begun in youth or middle age
  • The goal is to extend healthspan not just lifespan

DIY biohacking and the cocktail problem

Every bit as interesting as the scientific talks were the informal discussions of the wide range of interventions, treatments, supplements and other anti-aging remedies in use by conference participants. The cocktail problem is how multiple remedies taken in concert may be impacting each other. Never has there been a market with such demand and so few offerings as for anti-aging remedies.