According to a January 19 news release, the founder and former CEO of Amazon Jeff Bezos has invested in Altos Labs, a biotech business working on “cellular rejuvenation programming” to restore cell health and resilience to reverse a disease that occurs. Through life.” According to the Financial Times of London, Altos Labs has struck the ground running with $3 billion in fundraising on day one, possibly the single largest funding for a biotech business.
Experts from GlaxoSmithKline, a healthcare company, based in the United Kingdom that primarily develops pharmaceuticals and vaccines; Genentech, a San Francisco-based biotech firm that developed the first targeted antibody for cancer; and the National Cancer Institute are among the resarchers at Altos Labs. The quest to outlive death is as ancient as life itself, and this group is uniquely qualified to undertake this task.
Altos’ scientific goals
According to the press release, Altos will build two California laboratories in the Bay Area and San Diego, which will be overseen by teams of luminaries in their respective professions. It will also have a facility in Cambridge, England, and engage with Japanese experts. Although the leading team is full of Nobel laureates, it is big on promises and short on actual facts, as such announcements are prone to be. According to a September report from MIT Technology Review, the business will join the ranks of San Francisco-based Calico Labs, another startup attempting to outlive its creators; it is also financed by another wealthy tech entrepreneur: Larry Page, one of Google’s co-founders.
Bezos isn’t the only one who believes in this varied mega-hive-mind of anti-aging experts. Another wealthy backer is Yuri Milner, a Russian billionaire who invested in Facebook and the Russian email provider Mail.ru and the Russian social network VK. He now resides in Palo Alto, in the Los Altos Hills, which is where the lab got its name. (“Los Altos,” a Spanish term that roughly translates to “the heights,” might be a double entendre for Altos’ scientific goals.)
But what exactly are these scientists doing? Given the lack of specifics in the company’s debut statement, we can learn some information from the research background of some Altos experts.
Shinya Yamanaka’s research
Shinya Yamanaka is a Nobel Laureate in stem cell research who holds a medical degree, a Ph.D. in pharmacology (the study of medication effects on living things), and has spent decades as a professor. He is a senior scientist at Altos and directs the stem cell research department at Kyoto University. His Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded in 2012 for his work on cell “reprogramming,” allowing cells to revert their development back to stem cells.
Since his Nobel Prize win, Yamanaka’s stem cell research has been utilized to analyze completely treated animals. However, the findings reveal certain scary growths known as teratomas, which are uncommon in human fetuses: roughly one in every 30,000 kids is born with a teratoma. Teratomas aren’t generally malignant, but as a side consequence, they’re unattractive and unpleasant. (However, their growth, which mirrors that of human fetuses, suggests that the “reverse aging” mechanism is functioning.)
Yamanaka’s work may have the most sutitable profile, but the team also includes a well-known scientist: Juan Carlos Izpisúa Belmonte, whose lab was the first to apply Yamanaka’s discoveries to mice. For studies that began to hybridize human and monkey embryos, Izpisua Belmonte garnered scrutiny and condemnation.
Jeff Bezos’ position
Where does Jeff Bezos fit into all of this? As MIT Technology Review notes, his involvement has only been verified by persons who attended a significant discussion on “how biotechnology may be utilized to make people younger” at Milner’s Los Altos estate in October 2020. As a result, Altos’ debut statement is devoid of his comments. However, it’s easy to see how prolonging life would appeal to a man whose other interests include long-term investments such as the 10,000-year clock. Maybe he’s hoping to make it to the end.
Featured image source: Jeff Bezos by Seattle City Council under CC BY 2.0