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September 15, 2020

Jim Mellon Diary: My quest for the elixir of youth

By Rasika Sittamparam

Bioscience entrepreneur Jim Mellon has spent lockdown preparing for webinars and questing for the elixir of youth

As told to Rasika Sittamparam

The pandemic seems to have been the result of intensive farming and agricultural malpractices in the Far East. If there’s another one it could be a microbial one, which would be much worse – it could be like the Black Death.

So we need to do something to change the food supply. I have a stake in Agronomics, which has invested $50 million so far on cell agriculture and ‘clean meat’.

You can amplify animal stem cells through a medium and create whatever meat you’re trying to grow: chicken, pork or beef. We want to invest about $500 million by the end of 2021.

Quality matters

Most people want to live longer, but living a healthier life is more important – especially the last 15 per cent of it. I’ve been preparing for a webinar for clients of UBS that explains the science behind longevity.

That’s the major focus of my company Juvenescence and my colleague there Declan Doogan, Pfizer’s former head of drug development. We’ve raised more than $170 million in the past 18 months, which makes it worth $330 million, and we plan to take it public by the end of 2020.

That should raise a further $300-500 million and make it one of the biggest in the field worldwide.

Growth area

Our first products, which facilitate organ regeneration from liver cells, will be going through phase-II trials this autumn. We’re filing eight new drug applications in the next two years and we’re also researching the possibility of regrowing the thymus, a gland just behind the sternum.

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This is where the T-cells that fight viral infections such as Covid-19 are made. Older people have heavily compromised immune systems as fewer T-cells are made in the thymus.

It’s the same area of research that opens up the possibility of regrowing other vital parts of our body such as the pancreas (for diabetics) and the kidneys. We’ve also bought a portfolio of stem cells related to ageing, which is very exciting. And we’re only just starting.

Boom time

Longevity science will, I think, lead to the biggest stock market boom ever. It will make the recent medical cannabis boom look like nothing. For the first time in the history of mankind, the elixir of youth, the promise of living a longer life, will actually come true.

There is no one pill that you can take, but a combination of several pharmaceuticals, gene therapies, gene-related technology and treatments could extend your lifespan to 120.

I’m confident in predicting that the science of longevity will represent the biggest industry on the planet within 20 years, and that it will be affordable for everyone after about ten years of commercial exploitation.

Wear and tear

It is important to note that we’re not predestined to die. But as time goes on, the healing process of our body gets overwhelmed – wear and tear overwhelms repair.

We gradually go into a process called ‘loss of homeostasis’, which signals that our inner chemical balance is beginning to get upset, which eventually results in death.

There are some creatures out there, such as the C. elegans worm, which Google’s ageing company Calico is studying, that are made up of atoms and molecules just like us but don’t die naturally. Science has shown that the lifespan of a worm can be increased by up to 20 times using genetic manipulation.

Similar principles can apply to humans. There is a huge amount of bioscience activity in the UK, which is not widely known. There have been negative developments in the form of Neil Woodford’s investments and the government’s lack of funding in this area.

But now people like Sir John Bell are spearheading major efforts to build a home-grown industry. Increasingly, the nexus between VC universities and scientist-entrepreneurs that’s made the US so successful in this field is developing in the UK.

More Juvenescence employees are based here than anywhere else, so we’re very much British. It’s very important to us that the UK retains its status as the second major centre for life sciences in the world.

One of the reasons why the US is ahead is because drug prices are so high. If Joe Biden wins in November, they could come down.

Jim Mellon will be interviewed at the virtual Spear’s Wealth Insight Forum on the 29th of September. Click here to register. 

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