The country’s first longevity center will soon open in the city of Limmat, “NZZ am Sonntag” knows. Investors around the world are currently pumping huge amounts of money into the latest megatrend: longevity. The prospect of a long, healthy life is based on solid science—at least most of the time.
People have wanted immortality for thousands of years. But, as always, it’s Silicon Valley’s tech entrepreneurs who want to turn the dream into reality. This is called longevity. Bryan Johnson, for example, who managed to sell a company he built for $800 million, allows his obsession with staying young forever to cost him $2 million a year. His life motto is: “Don’t die”.
It also described itself as an “open science project” because it consistently puts its interventions, daily meals and vital data online. Johnson undergoes a strict 2,250-calorie regimen every day, swallows more than 100 pills and does an hour of exercise — plus lots of 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 getting closer. In the center of Zurich, to be more precise: at the beginning of next year, the company Ayun will open a so-called longevity center on Uraniastrasse, measuring 580 square meters. The offer: personalized healthcare, 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 rooms, infusions, etc.
Because science is at the heart of the longevity movement, whose most enthusiastic followers call themselves “biohackers.” It’s a young discipline: “Research on longevity in the strictest sense, so-called Geroscience, only emerged in 1993,” says Ewald Collin, who researches strategies to improve human life expectancy at ETH Zurich. “At that time, researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, managed to double the lifespan of nematodes. Then, mice and human cells could also be rejuvenated.”
As spectacular as these advances may be, they may not be transferable to individual people. Despite this, the topic of longevity already inspires many laypeople 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-cold 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 hype. Sinclair, who wrote a widely acclaimed book (“The End of Aging”), regularly attracts attention with bold predictions. Sinclair states, 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 of commercialization – Sinclair is also heavily involved – new longevity companies are constantly emerging in the US. Therefore, it was only a matter of time before Swiss entrepreneurs joined the movement.
What is quite surprising is that there are two venture capital firms in Switzerland that consider themselves serial founders in the longevity sector. The company Maximon, which is behind the Ayun Longevity Center, also created four other companies: for example, Avea, a Swiss company that develops nutritional supplements for longevity. In addition to offering DNA testing, it can also determine a person’s biological age – which does not need to match the age stated on their passport. You can age faster or slower, like millionaire Bryan Johnson.
Maximon describes himself as a “company builder” and wants to continually create new companies from now on. «Longevity will become the biggest market of the 21st century. Every person becomes a customer of longevity – because everyone would rather stay young and healthy than get old and get sick,” says co-founder Tobias Reichmuth, explaining 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 Manager” who will also plan a national “Swiss Longevity Campus.” The company also invites you to a “Longevity Lunch” at WEF.
The other serial founder company is Rejuveron. Like Maximon, she also has a top 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 intend to use their products to extend people’s so-called health period.
Despite the term longevity, the main goal is not necessarily to live as long as possible, but rather to be vital and disease-free until just before the end of life. Viewed this way, this branch of research could one day bring enormous savings to our overburdened healthcare system. As is known, this country spends most of its resources to keep diseases at bay, which could normally be avoided even in old age. No one needs to have 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 illnesses inevitably occur with age. But longevity research shows that this doesn’t necessarily have to be the case,” says Nilayini Vamatheva. The internal medicine specialist not only runs a family practice, but also works for the Zug-based venture capitalist SNGLR. He is currently raising money for a specialized fund. SNGLR aims to build a portfolio of around a dozen young, long-lived European companies within two to three years.
Vamatheva emphasizes that the dream of longevity need not fail because of our genetic makeup or our wallet. “The prospect of a long and healthy life depends very little on our genes. We have most of it in our hands: social contacts, sufficient exercise and sleep, healthy eating or reducing stress contribute significantly to longevity.
In the coming years, several medical interventions will appear on the market that could additionally slow down the aging process: such as stem cell and gene therapies or senolytic medicines – that is, medicines 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 Ewald, a researcher at ETH. “This makes it difficult to conduct clinical trials because there are still no recognized biological characteristics by which treatment success can be measured.” It is correspondingly difficult to finance clinical studies.
Other Swiss universities are also becoming aware of the issue. The University of Zurich, for example, has had a “Healthy Longevity Center” for two years.
Geroscience may still be fighting for recognition from health authorities. The researchers are already very sure about their case: “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, puts his biological age at 34, while the age on his passport is 42.
In contrast to science, companies rely less on lengthy comparative studies to offer their products and services to a willing buyer. The effectiveness of your products may not yet be fully proven or quantifiable. For now it is enough that they do not cause any damage.
An article from “NZZ am Sonntag”