Sunday, August 03, 2008

VC life extension opportunity redux

The VC life extension investment opportunity could happen in at least three areas: first and most importantly, translational medicine, second, health social networks and third, distantly, standardized longevity treatments and delivery systems.

Translational medicine
The biggest and most obvious longevity play for VCs is in translational medicine, shepherding and commercializing science findings from basic research to patient therapies. The vast majority, perhaps even 90% or more, of basic research findings never go beyond the lab or journal publication. A particularly high profile example of an early stage longevity company that rocketed from test tube to IPO to big pharma acquisition is Sirtris, bought by GlaxoSmithKline for $720M in June 2008. Some other early stage translational medicine longevity startups are Elixir Pharmaceuticals, Juvenon and Sierra Sciences. In the plethora of remedies claiming science support, it is critical to tightly link the research evidence to the intervention. For example, in this year’s exploding brain fitness market, there is much claim of scientific support but little published clinical trial evidence.

Health social networks
Another VC play is health social networks (for example, PatientsLikeMe, CureTogether, DailyStrength, HealthChapter, Experience Project and peoplejam). Not only can patients connect and generate group-synthesized, curated and moderated knowledge, but health social networks can also facilitate the development of personalized medicine by being a repository for the quantitative data of genomics, ongoing biomarker measurements and electronic healthcare records. Big pharma can approach patient communities for field studies and clinical trials.

Longevity treatment delivery
Standardized longevity treatments and delivery programs via private clinics are not a traditional VC play, but some interesting 10x business models may be possible. In the several years before longevity treatments are more proven and automatically administered via traditional healthcare channels, these services can be provided by private clinics as they are now.

What would improve the longevity treatment market is standardization; standardization of doctor qualifications, certifications, validations, services and treatments, and treatments supported by scientific research clearly evidenced to consumers. Currently, longevity doctors offer heterogeneous suites of services which is challenging for consumers to parse. Positioned appropriately, there is more than adequate demand despite the current lack of insurance reimbursement. Since longevity treatments are currently outside the purview of traditional medicine, third party certification (for example led by the Methuselah Foundation) could help validate doctors and treatment programs, and contribute to industry standards.

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