Hevolution Foundation was founded to accomplish a specific mission: to extend the healthy human lifespan for the benefit of all. It’s an ambitious goal, facing not just scientific challenges, but reputational and even philosophical ones. The true heart of the challenge lies in our fundamental perspective on aging.
We do not yet understand aging as a condition rooted in biology; a condition that might be treatable and manageable. For many, this is as much a cultural mindset as a scientific question. Yet, emerging research, data and insights show that this perspective limits us unnecessarily, and that there is both an opportunity and an obligation to transform how we study age, and thus, how we age.
One awkward reality for science, however, is that when it comes to applied research and creation of new medicines, failure is the rule. So, Hevolution Foundation faces a profound dilemma: we must encourage a new way of thinking about a problem that’s older than humanity. But we also need to face the reality of low success rates in developing therapies.
Recent data show the overall probability of a given drug or vaccine proving successful (approved for use by the FDA or a similar regulatory body) is just 13.8% with certain therapeutic areas showing even more difficulty: oncology drugs, for example, have a 3.4% success rate.
While these rates seem surprisingly low, there’s a second issue, which is more troubling: despite the extraordinary technological advances of the past century, successful medical innovation is getting harder, not easier.
Over the years, we have steadily tackled the basic symptoms of aging, like high blood pressure and heart disease, typically with broadly prescribed classes of medications (like statins, for example, to lower cholesterol and help prevent heart attacks and strokes).Similarly, we have targeted diabetes and cancer with incrementally better therapies. What we haven’t yet managed to do, despite huge advances in computing power, data analytics, and genomics: taken a corresponding great leap forward in medical science.
Achieving a step change in aging research
Even though global health spending is increasing as a percentage of GDP, and despite the health sector itself expanding faster than the world economy, there has been no proportional improvement in the rate of innovation within the field. In fact, research shows the number of new drugs approved per billion US dollars spent on research and development has halved roughly every 9 years since 1950. Adjusted for inflation, this suggests an 80-fold decline in efficiency over this period.
This extraordinary deterioration attracted the derisive term “Eroom’s Law” by those who have studied it in detail — the reverse of “Moore’s Law”. Even as the canon of medical knowledge expands, we are failing to effectively translate scientific insight and discovery into new therapies.
This is not due to lack of effort, insights, intelligence or capabilities on the part of the world’s scientists and research/medical organizations. Treating the human body for complex conditions is hard, and the high rates of failure associated with medical innovation bring a set of disproportionate commercial and reputational risks with them. This creates a literal “development cliff” that remains a significant obstacle to progress.
Overcoming the development cliff
Funding and research always strive for progress, if not outright success. That means support for innovative but speculative work can become attenuated. Further, funding bodies may hold the assumption that initiatives too close to the development cliff are simply a waste of time, money and careers.
Hevolution Foundation, while acknowledging this developmental and reputational dynamic, has a different view. We believe there is a path across the cliff that has high scientific integrity. We also believe that the shift in perspective represented by our mission is about more than short-term ROI.
Right now, no one institution exists with the resources to “de-risk” scientific and medical inquiry into the biology of aging and ensure that knowledge is successfully translated from the laboratory, through the clinic, and on to the patient.
Currently, there is no single organization which can help scientists worldwide collaborate, at scale, on aging as a condition.. At Hevolution Foundation, our essential Mission is to extend the healthy human lifespan for everyone, in a way such that there is more equity and accessibility to therapies that help people live healthier longer. And we have a strategy, and resources, to do just that.
Three stages to transforming the science of aging
First, this process will demand intellectual capital to identify and drive truly innovative scientific inquiry.
Second, a combination of grant and investment capital is required, so advances can migrate from hypothesis through to experimentation and trials.
The third requirement: courage. The most remarkable advances in human history come from the courage to ask simple questions that upend convention. The body of scientific inquiry about aging — the complex biology of aging, the cellular processes involved, the clear distinction between chronological and biological age, the close relationship between disease and age in humans — brings us to one simple, disruptive question: is aging a treatable disease?
Simply asking this question has, historically, been a risk. But, unless we ask this question, then we accept aging and its associated debilitations and limitations, as inevitable.
The machinery of change
We cannot expect to change the processes by which scientific discovery begins, and is cultivated, commercialized and adopted, unless we profoundly change the machinery that influences these processes.
What is needed is an organization that can act as donor, investor, and researcher — at scale — to shepherd a new category of scientific knowledge forward for all of humanity.
Hevolution Foundation is designed to be that organization. If the current system of resources and incentives are highly fragmented, Hevolution Foundation can catalyze and accelerate this journey from beginning to end through a single entity, with global reach.
Acting as a donor, grants awarded by the foundation will be aligned to fill gaps in knowledge, with a focus on catalyzing drug development. As scientists ourselves, we can focus on what will move the field ahead. We will also operate on a scale that will substantially advance the field: our funding will increase global investment in aging research by up to 25%, and we will provide a platform on which to build an ecosystem that we will help fund, in order to coordinate aging science worldwide.
Acting as an investor, Hevolution Foundation will look to deploy capital in intelligent, high-integrity ways associated with the development cliff to help others bring products to market. We can leverage our insights as a donor to identify opportunities among our grant recipients, in particular for applied science vs. basic science grants, and access our understanding of cutting-edge science in longevity to assess potential targets. At the same time, our capital will be “patient”: we will not be operating under the time constraints and pressures that create shorter fuses for pure venture capital.
Our investments will be in a combination of new drug developments that have been focused on longevity from the outset, to repurposing drugs already in the market, or drugs under development that failed at pre-clinical or clinical stages on their initial indication.
Hevolution Foundation brings additional resources to the science and treatment of aging, and the extension of the human healthspan. We also bring innovation in the way we propose to advance knowledge, incentivize participation at every stage of that journey, and dramatically accelerate its pace.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we intend to operate with courage. To ask questions that challenge assumptions and conventional thinking about the nature and inevitability of aging itself.