Exploring Longevity Drugs in an Era of Slumping Investments and Rising Doubt

Venture capitalists have put the brakes on investments in longevity-related interventions over the past few years, yet experts predict new drug approvals will spur a funding surge.

By Bennett M. Sherman

Key Points:

  • Longevity investments soared from $525 million in 2013 to $9.26 billion in 2021.
  • Investments in pro-longevity interventions have slumped over the past year; however, some experts predict another surge in funding once drugs get closer to approval.
  • Along those lines, aging researchers have scores of longevity-promoting drugs in the pipeline, and regulators will not likely approve any of them for another five to 10 years.

While longevity-oriented investments burgeoned from $525 million in 2013 to $9.26 billion in 2021, funding has slumped over the last year. Accordingly, investments in the business of longevity only totaled about $3.01 billion in 2023. The decline in longevity-related investments comes amid high interest rates and economic worries. However, some experts predict a surge in investments once new longevity-promoting drugs get closer to approval over the next decade.

A plethora of drugs and treatments designed to extend longevity are in the pipeline. These potential interventions against aging will likely receive approval from regulators like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the next five to 10 years as they go through new trials.

“The most important thing is to stay alive for another 10 years because by then we will definitely have an effect [on aging],” says Jim Mellon, founder of the longevity biotech company Juvenescence.

The purported longevity-promoting drugs in the pipeline come on the heels of new advancements in genetics and cellular biology. Such developments have given aging researchers a better picture of why and how we age. Now, researchers are applying their new paradigms on aging, such as characteristic hallmarks of aging, to keep people healthier as they grow older. The ultimate goal of their research endeavors is to extend human lifespan.

Interventions under development intended to prolong longevity include drugs designed to amp up metabolism, slow muscle loss in the elderly, and rejuvenate aging cells. Companies like Juvenescence have also started developing heart disease therapies that utilize compounds called ketones, which the body uses for energy when low on sugars (glucose). Accordingly, ketones fuel the body during long periods of fasting or exercise. Using such strategies to promote longevity, aging researchers are hoping to get their potential lifespan-extending drugs approved in the coming decade.

Not Classifying Aging as a Disease Dampens Longevity Research Funding

One of the biggest challenges facing the longevity industry — comprising biotech companies aiming to extend longevity — is funding. As such, even if a discovery came about that could extend human lifespan, it is not clear how biotech companies that make the intervention would get reimbursed. Currently, the FDA does not classify aging as a disease, so Medicare or private insurers would not have any incentive to pay for interventions against aging. Instead, aging researchers are forced to target diseases of aging like cardiovascular and neurodegenerative conditions since the FDA already recognizes these as diseases.

“My enthusiasm hat says, ‘Let’s solve aging’,” says Sergey Jakimov, founding partner of the venture capital firm LongeVC. “My [venture capital] hat says we might start with solving certain age-related diseases, which will have a very big longevity benefit across the population.”

Repurposing FDA-Approved Drugs to Target Aging

“Our medical system is highly reactive to a whole series of diseases that are mostly driven by aging,” says Dr. Eric Verdin, CEO of the Buck Institute for Research on Aging. “Why not tackle the root cause of these diseases and stop them from occurring in the first place?”

Future research may be able to target aging itself. To do so, scientists may need to analyze drugs that are already approved for other diseases. In this way, researchers could repurpose these drugs against aging.

One such repurposed drug is rapamycin, already approved to prevent tissue rejection in organ transplant recipients. A growing body of evidence suggests it may confer anti-aging benefits such as quelling inflammation. It can also have undesirable side effects like suppressing the immune system if taken at higher doses. For this reason, biotech companies are developing new drugs called rapalogs that give rapamycin’s benefits without its side effects. In this way, the study of a drug already approved for a non-aging-related condition allows researchers to find ways to target aging.

The Longevity Industry’s Future Depends on Big Pharma’s Investments

Once longevity biotech companies have developed new drugs, pharmaceutical companies will likely either acquire the companies or buy their longevity-promoting treatments. In that regard, pharmaceutical companies are closely eyeing developments from longevity biotech companies. They will also likely step up their investments in longevity research once potential lifespan-extending drugs get closer to approval.


López-Otín C, Blasco MA, Partridge L, Serrano M, Kroemer G. Hallmarks of aging: An expanding universe. Cell. 2023 Jan 19;186(2):243-278. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2022.11.001. Epub 2023 Jan 3. PMID: 36599349.

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