Funding: The Single Biggest Factor Limiting Longevity Research

Research on longevity, or fighting aging as a disease, has several things in the way of its progress. These range from technical complexity, to regulatory barriers, to negative public perceptions and misunderstandings of life extension. The largest hurdle, however, is funding. It’s difficult to deny the profound impact more funding would have on discoveries made and advances achieved in the field of aging. [1,2,3] More funding means more shots on goal, but innovation on how that funding is deployed is also desperately needed.

The current state of biomedical research funding is a fraught topic, every step of the way. In the US, for example, the NIH is the primary body that funds basic research, but its budget has been decreasing since 2003 when adjusted either for inflation or with respect to GDP. [4,5] On the other end of drug development, bringing a therapy to the clinic has never been more expensive. The opposite of Moore’s Law, Eroom’s Law describes how this cost has doubled approximately every nine years since 1950. [6] Between basic research and the translation of that research to a therapeutic looms the so-called “valley of death,” where most therapies fail for a variety of reasons. This valley is growing wider and deeper with each passing year. [7]

Longevity-focused research is not exempt from these difficulties. If anything, its barriers are even greater. Targeting the aging process rather than a specific disease represents a major paradigm shift. While the evidence mounts and the idea gains traction in both the scientific and broader community, research targeting aging still remains an unproven strategy outside of preclinical models. Both the federal agencies who support basic research and the pharmaceutical companies who back large scale clinical trials tend to be risk averse, albeit for different reasons. This makes for a lot of herd behavior even within the niche of longevity. There’s a tremendous need for funding high risk, high reward projects in the late pre-clinical, early clinical stages. Many longevity-focused therapies fall into this category.

Alternatives to Government Grants and Big Pharma

While anyone can donate to a nonprofit, private equity is a game for large investors only. Only very recently have groups like Kickstarter emerged to allow small players to play a role in a technology’s early days. However, this hasn’t translated well into the biomedical industry, which requires extremely large amounts of capital and comes with a high probability that no product will ever result.

University technology transfer offices also attempt to fill this gap, but typically range from inefficient to ineffective. Just 11% of offices are profitable and even the best of them are only successful with less than 1% of their technologies. [8,9] In fact, the awarding and management of patents can be blamed for many issues ranging from excessive drug pricing to drug development’s “valley of death”. The drug development process as it stands is ripe for disruption. [4,10]

A Radically Different Approach

VitaDAO is the world’s first decentralized intellectual property collective, funding and commissioning research into human longevity.