The original version of the interview appeared in Paris Match (Issue 04 on May 2nd 2020).
Meet Sergey Young, the man who wants to offer 1 billion people the chance of longevity
One thing is for sure - Sergey Young is a visionary. And not just any visionary: he is one that really invests in their vision. Sergey was born in the Soviet Union in 1971. After graduating from college, he worked for top-tier management consulting companies for several years and then managed a 2-billion-dollar private equity fund. His career was flourishing, but his enthusiasm for it - not as much. Over time, Sergey Young developed a passion longevity - and spreading the idea of it to others. Today, Sergey is convinced that 25% to 30% of the new generation could have the opportunity to live up to 200 healthy years. And his optimism doesn't end there. In 2018, he founded the $100 million Longevity Vision Fund dedicated to investing in new health and life extension technologies to make people's lifespans longer and healthier
Sergey's goal is to make longevity accessible and affordable for one billion people. He is also looking forward to the launch of Age Reversal XPRIZE in 2020 where he is the Development Sponsor. Sergey is also Innovation Board Member at the XPRIZE Foundation - a non-profit organization founded in 1995, dedicated to fostering the development of technological breakthroughs. To date, XPRIZE has attracted support and participation from the likes of Elon Musk, James Cameron and Larry Page. Now meet the man who wants to offer the world the opportunity to enjoy century-long lifespans
Can you tell us about your professional career?
Over the past 20 years, I spent my time investing in all kinds of 'boring' industries like real estate and food retail. I never felt much zeal until I discovered my purpose: extending people's lives, improving their health, and making longevity affordable. And to achieve that, I decided to do what I do best: to invest! So, I founded my own fund - Longevity Vision Fund - and started a number of longevity-related activities such as sponsoring the development of Age Reversal XPRIZE and becoming the Innovation Boad Member at the XPRIZE Foundation. That’s my 'night job'. For my 'day job', I still manage a multi-billion dollar private equity fund
How did you develop the passion for longevity?
70% of people start thinking about longevity when they face the risk of decline in health. My case was no exception. A few years ago, I went to see a doctor who told me that my cholesterol was very high - something that affects about 50% of the population in Europe. So, this is was not particularly extraordinary - although the potential health implications of facing an elevated risk of a heart attach were. My doctor's suggestion was to have me take medication every single day for the rest of my life. I was shocked! My first degree was in Chemical Engineering, so I knew first-hand just how potentially toxic the intake of chemicals can be, especially if you take them daily for many years. So, when I asked for an alternative, he doctor said, "Everyone already knows what to do: you have to change your lifestyle, eat healthy food and exercise more... But no one actually follows through." So I thought to myself, "Okay if anyone is going to do it, it's going to be me." And that's when I discovered that human bodies have self-healing capabilities. That was the trigger
Your goal is to make longevity affordable for 1 billion people. Why do you think this is possible?
Mainly thanks to technology, because it makes everything much more accessible. For example, I just spoke with a professor at a clinic where they started using robots to assist doctors during heart surgeries. This lowered the cost of surgery by three times! I also understood that medicine was generally very reactive and symptomatic - that it was no longer treating diseases at an early stage using regenerating and more natural products. A preventive approach in medicine can make it up to 10 times cheaper to treat a health condition than emergency treatment of the same - which is why I am particularly interested in early diagnostics. And finally, there are devices like the Apple Watch, which can detect five different types of heart problems and call an ambulance for you if it detects you have suffered a 'hard fall'. I think that technology is making longevity particularly affordable and accessible to all
You founded the Longevity Vision Fund in 2018, which has already raised 100 million dollars. Who invested in this project?
The fund-backers are American and European investors, mainly based across London, New York, and the Silicon Valley. They are the people who did not want to spend their millions and billions on luxury homes and private jets. They wanted to invest in something that is good for the planet
Is living up to 200 years really good for the planet?
I couldn't give you a short answer for this type of question. I am currently writing a book on longevity - "Growing Young" - and when I pondered whether it was good for the planet or not, my publisher and I concluded that this topic would need a whole book of its own. But you know, I started this whole project asking, "Would you like to live to 100?" and people would say, "Oh, Sergey, we've heard that before, it's kind of boring." So, 200 years is more of a strategy to capture people's attention. Because when I say it, people think I'm crazy, and they start listening to me! What is most important is that my work is more focused on the quality of those extra years than on their quantity. I would prefer that everyone lives to 100 years in a very healthy state rather than spend 200 years being miserable
Which companies did you invest in through the Longevity Vision Fund, and why?
With a $100 million-dollar fund, it is normal to invest in 25-30 companies and startups. This is our approach anyway, since we have to diversify our portfolio because we don't know who will be the 'winner'. We choose companies we invest in based on what they can bring in terms of health and the quality of life, so we focus a lot on early diagnostics - one of our key priorities. At the moment, we have invested in more than 6 companies.
EXO IMAGING develops ultrasound imaging devices the size of a mobile phone that can scan the whole body. Artificial intelligence is then used to analyze the scan and detect diseases such as cancer. Today, if you go to a hospital in the UK or the United States, the use of ultrasound scans is extremely expensive. With this technology, we will be able to distribute very affordable ultrasound imaging devices around the world
We have also invested in FREENOME, which is working on next-generation blood tests to detect, and thus prevent, colon cancer as early as possible. You know, the procedure for screeniing colon cancer today is extremely unpleasant. I'm holding back because I'm genuinely afraid of all this. However, with early diagnostics, for some cancer types, the chances of recovery are 93 to 100%, which is excellent! In addition to that, it greatly reduces the cost of treatment, which is much more expensive if the cancer is detected at its later stages
INSILICO MEDICINE is another interesting example of an AI (Artificial Intelligence) based company. Its aim is to accelerate the course of drug discovery and development. For example, developing a drug in the United States can sometimes take up to 12 years and cost more than $2 billion. That's a huge obstacle. We hope that AI technologies help to reduce them significantly
The American company LIFE BIOSCIENCES is researching the biological mechanisms of aging in order to slow down or even reverse its process. It was founded by the renowned Professor David Sinclair, a tenured professor in the Department of Genetics at Harvard Medical School who recently published his book, "Lifespan: Why We Age and Why We Don't Have to" several months ago. It's already a bestseller!
Founded in 2017, JUVENESCENCE is a biopharmaceutical company that aims to lengthen the state of youth and eradicate end-of-life suffering by providing new treatments to patients.
One of our latest investments is LYGENESIS. Their technology uses lymph nodes as bioreactors for organ regeneration. Their main clinical development is liver regeneration, with an emphasis on assisting patients with terminal liver failure
You worked with the XPRIZE Foundation. Can you tell me more about this foundation and your role in creating Age Reversal XPRIZE?
The XPRIZE Foundation has two goals. The first is to encourage technological innovation by creating worldwide competitions. For example, the "Global Learning XPRIZE" award challenged teams around the world to develop software that allows children to learn the basics of arithmetic, writing and reading in just 15 months 0 without the support of an adult. The two winning teams got $5 million each! Which brings us to the second goal: finding funding for such initiatives. I am a member of the XPRIZE Foundation Innovation Board and I have always dreamed of making a prize to create competition in longevity. I'm working on this project with some of the brightest minds in this field, such as Aubrey De Gray, one of the founders of gerontology, Terry Grossman co-author of «Transcend: Nine Steps to Living Well Forever», Steve Hovarth, an inventor of epigenetic clocks and Kris Verburgh, professor at the Université Libre de Bruxelles. We have already raised $1.1 million. Our target is $20 million, and I think the rest will come soon because the interest in this project grows every day. Hopefully, we can launch the Age Reversal XPRIZE this year and gather all the people on the planet who believe they have a solution to aging!
Do Longevity Vision Fund portfolio companies play a role in the race for finding a therapy for COVID-19?
Coronavirus threatens not only the health of ourselves and our loved ones but also the worldwide economy as a whole. COVID-19 fatalities are already more than of its cousin SARS, and its financial repercussions could be as big as those of the Global Financial Crisis in 2008
Thankfully, artificial intelligence is helping us fight this viral epidemic in many ways, including prevention, drug development, and fatality management. One example of this is Insilico Medicine – a Longevity Vision Fund portfolio company I mentioned earlier. Insilico repurposed its platform to identify, in just four days, thousands of new molecules targeting the key coronavirus protein
Insilico Medicine has started openly publishing these continuously updated molecular structures so that researchers looking for a potential treatment for coronavirus could synthesize and test these molecules that could serve as potential medications against COVID-19. This reflects our values as a team at Longevity Vision Fund – to expand healthy lifespans of as many people as we can in an affordable and accessible way, and doing what we can to help fight the coronavirus crisis in collaboration with each other
There are many companies, like Google, that invest in longevity-related startups. How do you compare your efforts to theirs?
A 100-million-dollar fund is a tiny fund when compared to the rest of the financial sector. But with only $100 million, we have become one of the world's largest longevity funds. This, however, does not show you how 'great we are, but rather how young this industry is. I am not fighting with Google or others. In fact, I was amazed at all the support I received when I entered this space. And when I talk to other longevity investors, we all want to find a way to create some positive things for people and the planet. So if the investment of $1.5 billion in Calico by Larry Page and Sergey Brin, co-founders of Google, created something remarkable, I would be thrilled. I think it's essential to have multiple and different actors within an investment space - that's what will help us make groundbreaking discoveries.
Do you have any other projects in progress?
While waiting for the release of my book 'Growing Young' in a less than a year, I am working on a series of mini ebooks. The reason is that I cannot wait 12 long months until my main book is published to start opening people's minds, so I take every opportunity I can to do so!