When you are one of the world’s richest people, and obsessed with the seemingly endlessness of technology, travelling to Mars or defeating death seems like a reasonable pursuit. Jeff Bezos the founder of Amazon (the online buy everything store), announced recently that he is forming a company – Altos Labs – to reverse ageing and has hired scientists from the field of stem cell research, to reprogram human cells to stop ageing. Defeating death?
Some $3 billion USD is earmarked as seed funding.
Will it work and will Jeff live long enough to open an Amazon hub on Mars? Upload, an Amazon Prime TV series, gives a wink to the idea already, where the rich and lucky can “upload” a version of their consciousness to a fancy Ralph Lauren Polo club afterlife. The goal of the company building this afterlife is eventually to upload the download of your consciousness to a new body built from you.
In the real life Altos Labs says it will unravel the deep biology of cellular rejuvenation programming to restore cell health and resilience to reverse disease, injury, and the disabilities that can occur throughout life.
The company launches with a community of leading scientists, clinicians, and leaders from both academia and industry working together towards this common mission. It’s not a new mission. Stem cell research has being ongoing for decades.
Stem cell research in the United States has been starting and stopping, and can still be a contentious issue when Christian values collide with the idea of research using fetal stem cells. Federal Funding was halted and research set back during the Bush Administration.
Meanwhile in other countries like Israel where the Jewish faith believes that life starts at 40 days in utero, some of the ethical questions of stem cell research, often done with fetal stem cell tissues (but not always) is not an issue. To get a lead on what they missed it makes sense that the Altos team has also partnered with Japanese researchers, as Japan is known for fast-tracking stem cell research and has a Nobel prize winner from the field already.
China very well may have cloned human beings by now but due to its inability to reign in scientists and adhere to international guidelines working with China would be difficult.
Confucian, Taoist, and Buddhist teachings have substantially affected the societal and ethical framework and norms of China. In contrast to Western religious beliefs, none of these teachings consider a human embryo sacred from the moment of conception.
According to this article in Stem Cell the majority of Chinese people do not regard the embryo as a human being. This is exemplified by the prevalence of artificial termination of pregnancy in China: the country registers approximately 13 million medical terminations annually, compared with 20 million births.
Altos Science Superteam
According to Altos the executive team will be composed of Hal Barron, MD (CEO), Rick Klausner, MD (Chief Scientist and Founder), Hans Bishop (President and Founder), and Ann Lee-Karlon, PhD (Chief Operating Officer).
Hal Barron is currently President of R&D and Chief Scientific Officer at GlaxoSmithKline, a large pharmaceutical company and will join Altos as CEO and Board co-chair this summer, 2022.
Klausner was former director of the National Cancer Institute and entrepreneur, Bishop was former CEO of GRAIL and Juno Therapeutics, and Lee-Karlon was former Senior Vice President at Genentech.
Altos will be based in the US in the San Francisco Bay Area, San Diego, and in the UK in Cambridge. The company will also have significant collaborations in Japan.
“I am deeply honored to have been offered this once in a lifetime opportunity to lead such a unique company with a transformative mission to reverse disease,” said Hal Barron in a press statement. “It’s clear from work by Shinya Yamanaka, and many others since his initial discoveries, that cells have the ability to rejuvenate, resetting their epigenetic clocks and erasing damage from a myriad of stressors.
“These insights, combined with major advances in a number of transformative technologies, inspired Altos to reimagine medical treatments where reversing disease for patients of any age is possible.”
Altos is designed to integrate the best features of academia and industry — from academia the freedom to pursue the most challenging problems in biology, and from industry the focus on a shared mission, ability to foster deep collaborations, and the passion and commitment to transform science into medicines.
“Altos seeks to decipher the pathways of cellular rejuvenation programming to create a completely new approach to medicine, one based on the emerging concepts of cellular health,” said Klausner. “Remarkable work over the last few years beginning to quantify cellular health and the mechanisms behind that, coupled with the ability to effectively and safely reprogram cells and tissues via rejuvenation pathways, opens this new vista into the medicine of the future.”