Thursday, September 9, 2021

Jeff Bezos May Be Investing in Altos Labs, a Rejuvenation and Biological Reprogramming Start-Up

After traveling into space aboard the New Shephard suborbital rocket with his company Blue Origin, it seems that Jeff Bezos' new frontier is the conquest of youth. Along with other billionaires, the Amazon founder may be earmarking part of his fortune to finance a start-up company dedicated to discovering how to reverse the aging process called Altos Labs.

As reported by MIT Tech Review, Altos Labs is reportedly working on the application of biological reprogramming technology, a technique for rejuvenating cells in the lab that some scientists believe could be extended to revitalize entire animal bodies and ultimately prolong human life. In addition, the company is planning to establish several institutes in markets such as the United States, the United Kingdom and Japan; and to achieve its mission it is recruiting "a large group of university scientists with lavish salaries" and a promise to conduct "unrestricted research into how cells age and how to reverse that process".

In addition to Bezos, the project launched earlier this year would also involve Yuri Milner, a Russian-Israeli billionaire known for his investments in science and technology projects, and his wife Julia. The company could be backed by equity investors and other wealthy figures linked to the technology industry. Moreover, Will Gornall, a professor at the University of British Columbia's business school, claims to have had access to company documents and claims that Altos Labs may have received as much as $270 million in funding.

Among the scientists who, as reported by MIT Tech Review, would join Altos are Juan Carlos Izpisúa Belmonte, a Spanish biologist at the Salk Institute (La Jolla, California), who has gained notoriety for research that mixes human and monkey embryos; Steve Horvath, professor at UCLA and developer of a "biological clock" that can accurately measure human aging; or Shinya Yamanaka, who shared the Nobel Prize in 2012 for the discovery of cellular reprogramming. As reported by the media, the latter will be an unpaid senior scientist and will chair the company's scientific advisory board.

According to MIT Tech Review, Manuel Serrano, from the Institute for Research in Biomedicine in Barcelona, will also join the project. In statements to the media, he assures that "the philosophy of Altos Labs is to carry out research driven by curiosity" and that "through a private company, we have the freedom to be bold and explore". He further notes that although treatments for aging diseases could be worth billions, Altos does not plan to make money at first. "The goal is to understand rejuvenation," Serrano has said. "I would say the idea of having revenue in the future is there, but it's not the immediate goal."

The rejuvenation industry

Beyond decoding the keys to youth, cellular reprogramming is a market that could generate billions in profits. Several international companies are already trying to make progress in this area, including Life Biosciences, Turn Biotechnologies, AgeX Therapeutics and Shift Bioscience. However, their efforts have not yet led to any treatment tested on people in clinical trials.  

Jeff Bezos himself has previously funded similar research, as in 2018 he invested in Unity Biotechnologies, a biotech company aiming to make anti-aging therapies. It was founded in 2009 by Nathaniel David and a group of life sciences professors and its main mission is related to cellular senescence, i.e. research into older cells that have stopped dividing and which appear to be one of the causes of the onset of diseases associated with aging.

Other Silicon Valley entrepreneurs have also taken an interest in this field. In 2013, Larry Page, Co-Founder of Google, announced the tech firm's backing of Calico Labs, a biotech company focused on research into aging and associated diseases. Like Altos Labs, Calico also hired elite scientific figures and gave them generous budgets, and has started a lab focused on reprogramming.

In Spain, the pharmaceutical company Grifols has also taken an interest in the issue, since at the end of last year it acquired all the shares of Alkahest, a company specializing in rejuvenation.


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