Sirm members told risk management is the key to eternal life

Longevity is sadly generally regarded as a problem by many of today’s political and economic leaders as they attempt to extend the retirement age to protect the public purse from the cost of our ageing populations, and try to work out how healthcare systems will cope.

But Sirm members were given an alternative and uplifting view of this ‘problem’ during their annual forum in Bern by a successful entrepreneur and big thinker who sees the longevity ‘industry’ as an opportunity rather than a problem.

Dr Tobias Reichmuth made a lot of money in the renewable energy industry before the phrase ESG had been dreamt up and cashed in back in 2009. He then invested in the newly arrived bitcoin sector and sold out at the right time before the crash.

Reichmuth, who said that he likes to be an “early bird”, has now focused his resources and attention on longevity, which he sees as a massive future market.

He also believes that it is manageable from a risk and financial/economic perspective so long as the medical approach shifts from cure to prevention and a different view is taken to retirement.

He has therefore created Maximon, which is basically an incubator fund for longevity-focused start-ups that runs its own companies.

“With Maximon, we tackle nothing less than ageing. After having built several successful companies, I do focus on longevity with the aim to extend the human health-span and to provide people with tailor-made products and advice to reach a happy and healthy high age. Together with friends and proven entrepreneurs and investors, we have therefore founded Maximon, the longevity company builder,” states the company’s website.

Reichmuth is not alone. This is a fast-growing market.

It is collectively known as the longevity and anti-senescence market.

The bottom line is that disease, injury, and other stress factors harm cells throughout our bodies. Ideally, the damaged cells are cleared by our immune systems through a process called apoptosis. But as we age, our bodies are no longer as effective at removing dysfunctional cells and this can contribute to a weakened immune system and other less efficient biological processes.

An increasing number of researchers are exploring whether learning to harness a cellular state known as senescence — during which damaged cells resist removal by apoptosis, linger, and harm neighbouring normal cells — might hold the key to revitalising aging tissues and increasing healthy, active years of life.

According to Global Research Insights, the global longevity and anti-senescence therapy market size is projected to reach $566.4m by 2028, from $318.4m in 2021, at a CAGR of 8.1% during 2022-2028.

The science is complex, of course, but the basic principles as explained by Reichmuth are pretty simple.

“Most killer diseases are related to age. The chance of having cancer at 80 are 4,000 times that when you are 20. An estimated 85% of all diseases are related to age, except asthma,” he said.

“So the question is how to extend the time of living without the sickness. The problem is that the standard life expectancy is now 83.4 years but only 71 of those years with good health, with regional variations,” continued Reichmuth.

He explained that 20 years ago if you had gone to a doctor and asked why you age, you probably would have received a blank stare and been invited to use the door to enable him or her to deal with a real problem.

Then in 2013, breakthrough research was published that came up with the nine hallmarks of ageing. These hallmarks are: genomic instability, telomere attrition, epigenetic alterations, loss of proteostasis, deregulated nutrient-sensing, mitochondrial dysfunction, cellular senescence, stem cell exhaustion, and altered intercellular communication.

“The good news is that we have found solutions for all of them; in five areas we can slow them down and in two we can reverse them. For example, telomeres [which protect the ends of chromosomes from becoming frayed or tangled] can be lengthened,” explained Reichmuth.

Mitochondrial dysfunction is basically a loss of efficiency in the electron transport chain and reductions in the synthesis of high-energy molecules. It is a characteristic of aging and essentially of all chronic diseases.

There are now new products available to help with this, such as NMN that can improve cellular function and longevity. The jury is out on this one, as further studies are apparently needed, but Reichmuth believes we are on the right track. “There are currently ideas for all other areas, but today it is still not possible to stop ageing. But we can slow the process and in ten years I believe we can come close to controlling it,” he said.

Taking a step back from the science, Reichmuth said there are some pretty basic steps that we can all take to try to reach the agreed current human limit of 120 years old other than avoiding the obvious damaging habits.

“First there is movement, taking part in sports, not eating too much and what and when. Intermittent fasting is a good thing, though more for men than women, apparently for hormonal reasons. You have to be careful what you do,” he said.

“Then there is social life. Human interaction really helps until the very end. If it stops then you can drop pretty fast, so we need to enable this as a society,” added Reichmuth.

Maximon has, for example, invested in a new company called Senior Co-Living that it says provides an “upscale curated form of living” for active and healthy seniors.

“Last but not least, you have to relax. Work till you die but not 16 hours a day! Work in the morning and be productive but maybe have a glass of wine in the afternoon!” he said.

One positive development in the key area of prevention is the rise of new technologies to help identify problems and monitor how your body is working. “We now have all the data we need to personalise and prevent,” said Reichmuth.

This, he said, along with recent developments in gut health, should change the relationship with health services to place it on a more proactive and positive footing. “Go to the doctors to stay healthy, not when you are sick,” he said.

“By 2045 I believe we will reach longevity escape velocity [a situation in which life expectancy is improving at a faster rate than people are ageing, giving the possibility of living forever]… unless you are hit by a train,” said Reichmuth.

But as he conceded, such a prospect brings a big risk – the collapse of the pension system and huge long-term care challenges. According to the impressively optimistic Reichmuth, however, as with all risks, herein also lies an opportunity.

He pointed out that 80% of total health care costs are actually incurred in the last three months. Those who live a very long time, to 100 and beyond, tend to simply die of old age in their sleep – such as Queen Elizabeth. “The point is to stay young until you die, which will hugely bring down the cost,” he said.

As part of this equation, the focus of healthcare spend, and presumably also insurance, needs to radically change. “The OECD estimates that only 2.8% of healthcare spend is on prevention. The system needs to go in the other direction and invest in prevention, which will have a huge impact,” said Reichmuth.

The retirement age and stress on the public purse through extended living should not be regarded as a problem, he also argued.

“Everyone believes that if you are aged under 40 now you will never see a pension. But do you really not want to work after 65, albeit on a different model? Do you want the same job for 100 years? No. I would advocate instead of paying into a pension, take a year out every ten years to retrain and be paid to do so. These are not crazy adjustments to be made,” he said.

There is one big adjustment needed to make all this work, however – the fight against climate change. If this does not happen at the pace needed then living forever will not be much fun or indeed possible.

“There is only one planet. If our children are going to live over 100 years then we need to keep the planet alive is we want to stay alive,” concluded Reichmuth.

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