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.

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