The country’s first longevity center will soon open in the city of Limmat, as the NZZ am Sonntag knows. Currently, investors around the world are pouring huge amounts of money into the latest megatrend: longevity. The prospect of a long and healthy life is based on sound science, at least most of the time.
People have desired immortality for thousands of years. But, as always, it is the technology entrepreneurs of Silicon Valley who want to turn the dream into reality. That’s called longevity. Bryan Johnson, for example, who was able to sell a company he built for $800 million, lets his obsession with staying young forever cost him $2 million a year. His motto in life is: “Don’t die.”
It has also described itself as an “open science project” because it constantly posts its interventions, daily meals and vital data online. Johnson is on a strict 2,250-calorie regimen every day, swallowing more than 100 pills and doing an hour of exercise, plus many exotic interventions like laser skin therapies and constant testing. According to Johnson’s own statements, Johnson’s body does not age 365 days a year, but only 252 days.
A longevity center in Zurich
But now the prospect of a long and healthy life is very close. Right in the center of Zurich: at the beginning of next year, the company Ayun will open a 580 square meter so-called longevity center on Uraniastraße. The offer: personalized health care, based on blood, genetic and other tests. In addition, of course, to a wide selection of long-term treatments under the supervision of specialized doctors: oxygen and red light therapies, cold chambers, infusions, etc. All interventions for which there is evidence of effectiveness.
Because science is at the center of the longevity movement, whose most enthusiastic followers refer to themselves as “biohackers.” It is a young discipline: “Longevity research in the strict sense, so-called geroscience, did not emerge until 1993,” says Ewald Collin, who researches strategies to improve human life expectancy at ETH Zurich. “Back then, researchers at the University of California, San Francisco managed to double the lifespan of nematodes. Later, mouse and human cells could also be rejuvenated.”
As spectacular as these advances are, they may not be transferable to individuals individually. However, the topic of longevity already inspires many laymen who exchange information about new scientific articles and the best “protocols” on social networks. It refers to all the specific measures you take every day to combat aging: from intermittent fasting, sports sessions and ice baths to taking nutritional supplements and a cup of matcha green tea in the morning. Longevity can become a lifestyle.
Aging as a treatable disease
Researchers like genetics professor David Sinclair of Harvard Medical School are also responsible for this stir. Sinclair, who wrote a highly acclaimed book (“The End of Aging”), regularly turns heads with bold predictions. Sinclair claims, for example, that there are already the first people in the world who will one day live to be 150 years old. For him, aging is not a gift from God, but a treatable disease.
Because Americans are masters at marketing (Sinclair is also heavily involved), new longevity companies are constantly emerging in the United States. So it was only a matter of time before Swiss businessmen jumped on the bandwagon.
What is surprising is that in Switzerland there are two venture capital companies that are considered serial founders of the longevity sector. The company Maximon, which is behind the Ayun Longevity Center, has also created four other companies: for example Avea, a Swiss company that develops nutritional supplements for longevity. Not only does it offer DNA testing, but it can also determine a person’s biological age, which does not have to match the age listed on the passport. You can age faster or slower, like millionaire Bryan Johnson.
Maximon describes himself as a “business builder” and from now on he wants to continually create new businesses. «Longevity will become the largest market of the 21st century. Every person becomes a long-lived customer, because everyone prefers to stay young and healthy rather than grow old and sick,” co-founder Tobias Reichmuth explains the ambitious plans.
Maximon organizes the Longevity Investors Conference in Gstaad, whose high entry prices guarantee an exclusive group of participants. The company has just hired a “Longevity Valley Community Director” who will also plan a nationwide “Swiss Longevity Campus.” The company also invites you to a “Longevity Lunch” at the WEF.
The other company that is a serial founder is Rejuveron. Like Maximon, she also has a top-notch management team and already has five horses in her stable. These young companies share offices and research infrastructure in Schlieren, near Zurich. They are all biotechnology companies that want to use their products to extend the so-called lifespan of people.
Despite the term longevity, the primary goal is not necessarily to live as long as possible, but rather to be vital and disease-free until shortly before the end of life. Viewed this way, this branch of research could one day generate enormous savings for our overburdened healthcare system. As is well known, this country allocates most of its resources to keeping diseases at bay that could normally be avoided even in old age. No one has to suffer from type 2 diabetes. There is also no automatic rule that blood pressure increases with the number of years of life.
“Many people assume that chronic illnesses and ailments inevitably occur with age. But longevity research shows that this does not have to be the case,” says Nilayini Vamatheva. This internal medicine specialist not only runs a family practice, but also works for the Zug-based venture capitalist SNGLR. She is currently raising money for a specialized fund. SNGLR wants to create a portfolio of around twelve young European longevity companies within two to three years.
Vamatheva emphasizes that the dream of longevity does not have to fail either because of our genetic structure or because of our pocketbook. “The prospect of a long and healthy life depends very little on our genes. Most of it is in our hands: social contacts, sufficient exercise and sleep, a healthy diet or reducing stress contribute significantly to longevity.
In the coming years, various medical interventions will appear on the market that can also slow down the aging process: such as stem cell and genetic therapies or senolytic drugs, that is, drugs that help the body eliminate old cells. “Many of these interventions are still in the experimental phase,” says the doctor.
“One of our biggest challenges is that aging has not yet been declared a disease,” says ETH researcher Ewald. “This makes clinical trials difficult because there are still no recognized biological characteristics by which treatment success can be measured.” As a result, it is difficult to finance clinical studies.
Other Swiss universities are also becoming aware of this issue. The University of Zurich, for example, has had a “Healthy Longevity Center” for two years.
Geroscience may still be struggling to gain recognition from health authorities. The researchers are already very confident in their argument: “Science has identified the characteristics of aging and with the so-called epigenetic clock we can determine a person’s biological age quite reliably,” says Ewald. This can deviate significantly from chronological age. Ewald, for example, places his biological age at 34, while the age listed on his passport is 42.
Unlike science, companies rely less on lengthy comparative studies to offer their products and services to a willing buyer. The effectiveness of their products may not yet be fully proven or quantifiable. For now it is enough that these do not cause any damage.
An article from “NZZ am Sonntag”