Posted on Oct 28, 2019, 7 p.m.
The longevity sector is fast emerging as the investment category to watch; from apps to xenotransplantation some $4 billion dollars has been invested into finding solutions for extending both healthspan and lifespan, according to the Longevity Fund.
Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple may be the Big Four players in longevity technology who are all investors in longevity research. Google operates under the umbrella of parent company Alphabet Inc’s anti-aging subsidiary Calico and they are responsible for close to half of the $4 billion. But Amazon and its founder/chief executive Jeff Bezos have been increasingly active in the longevity space; Alexa has been identified as one of the Agetechs to watch which may become a key platform for independent living for many seniors. As mergers and acquisitions heat up only time will tell if Amazon will be the destination for many Longevity startups.
In 2013 Amazon founder Jeff Bezos was already looking ahead towards a change of focus when he said, “If your customer base is aging with you, then eventually you are going to become obsolete or irrelevant. You need to be constantly figuring out who are your new customers and what are you doing to stay forever young.”
It appears as if Amazon is doing just that as its retail dominance continues to grow and seems to be unshakeable. Despite this Bezos doesn’t appear to want to sit idle, as seen in the 2017 investment in Grail Inc, a startup in the preventative medicine market with a position that the cure for most cancers won’t be a new drugs, rather by new diagnostics that will detect tumours at an early stage when they can be successfully treated. Grail plans to use high intensity DNA sequencing to probe and screen blood samples for genetic materials and biomarkers secreted by hidden tumours, which will require a massive amount of data processing and storage that Amazon can help to provide.
By 2025 a projected 100 million and 2 billion human genomics could be sequenced which will demand an incredible amount of computing space that will exceed those of Twitter and YouTube to create a serious return for investors. Grail raised $1.1 billion by 2017, which put it among the top 3 most heavily funded private biotechs, according to EvaulatePharma, and clinical trials are currently enrolling.
Benzos isn’t just investing Amazon’s cash, he is also dipping his hand into his own pockets and has invested millions into Unity Biotechnology. This is another startup with the mission of making the “debilitating consequences of aging as uncommon as polio.” $116 million was raised in a Series B financing for Unity Biotech, their research focuses on senescent cells, being able to rejuvenate them or control their effect on various body processes may be the holy grail to anti-aging research. The biotech has already shown it is possible to reverse or prevent several diseases linked to aging in animal studies by select removal of senescent cells.
Juno Therapeutic was also backed by Amazon, which was acquired by Celgene for $9 billion last year, and then acquired by Bristol-Myers Squibb. But it was Bezos to notice the potential of this company in 2014 when his ventor capital was an early investor. Juno made headlines in the biotech sector for breakthrough discoveries in cancer medicine.
Bezos recently made a $15 million investment in Mindstrong Health’s Series B funding stage, which has the mission to “connect patients and providers with continuous, objective measures of cognition and mood giving patients agency in their care and providers the confidence that they can notice the early signs of mental health deterioration.” The company is gaining attention for having “the smartphone app that can tell you’re depressed before you know it yourself,” according to MIT Technology Review.
Amazon has dallied with several apps and smart technology such as a range of Alexa based patient solutions, smart speakers that help to detect cardiac arrests, and apps that are designed to help improve healthspan for those who suffer with Alzheimer’s disease. To add to their base Amazon also has links to the NHS in the Uk that allows users to access health and wellness information through the AI powered voice assistant Alexa applications which are under development including ones designed to help manage health improvement goals or to help manage blood sugar readings.
Amazon also shelled out close to $1 billion for the online pharmacy PillPack in 2018 which has licences to supply prescription drugs across America. This may be a smart move as patients are beginning to expect an increased level of service and flexibility from healthcare that they can get from online retailers.
Bezos has invested in a range of companies such as biotechs looking to cure cancer, agriculture tech looking to end hunger, finance tech looking empower underserved communities, and education tech aiming to help people prepare for an evolving job market. He is quietly betting on EverFi, General Assembly, MarketBot, NextDoor, Plenty, Airbnb, Grail, Juno Therapeutics, Mark43, Fundbox, Lookout, Uber, Domo, Breakthrough Energy Ventures, and Mindstrong Health among others.
It appears as if Bezos has a good eye for investment opportunities, and he has spread his longevity investments out over the last few years demonstrating that he can take his own advice as he steers his portfolio away from growing old and possibly becoming obsolete towards the search for being forever young.
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This article is not intended to provide medical diagnosis, advice, treatment, or endorsement.