ChatGPT Founder Sam Altman’s New Startup Retro Biosciences Aims to Reverse Aging

Backed by the largest-ever individual investment towards a longevity startup from OpenAI CEO Sam Altman, Retro Biosciences will begin to tackle aging via cellular reprogramming, autophagy, and plasma-inspired therapeutics.

By Daniel R. Miranda, Ph.D.

Until revealed by MIT Technology Review on March 8th, the identity of the investors who provided $180 million in startup funds to Retro Biosciences was a mystery. Now we know the money came from only one investor— Sam Altman. 

Altman is the CEO of OpenAI, the artificial intelligence (AI) company behind ChatGPT and now GPT-4, which can pass the bar exam. With early stakes in companies like Airbnb, this tech superstar has become a prominent Silicon Valley investor. Now, Altman has put most of his cash into two companies, one to develop limitless energy ($375 million towards Helion Energy) and the other to extend human lifespan. 

“It’s a lot. I basically just took all my liquid net worth and put it into these two companies,” Altman says.

Altman’s $180 million investment in Retro Biosciences is one of the largest made by an individual in the human longevity space. And along with OpenAI and Helion, he’s placed his bets on technologies he thinks will have the biggest impact on society in the near future. However, to some, extending the human lifespan seems like an impossible feat. 

Dr. Alejandro Ocampo, a pioneering scientist in the area of cellular reprogramming and consultant for Retro Biosciences, says, “there are optimists who think we’ll be immortal in 10 years, and there are pessimists who say we will never extend human life.”

Clearly, Altman and Retro Biosciences are on the side of the optimists. 

(Retro Biosciences) The Retro Biosciences team sitting atop their new labs, which are in shipping containers.

How to Extend a Lifespan 

The Retro mission is to “increase healthy human lifespan by ten years.” Retro Biosciences is focused on cellular reprogramming, autophagy, and plasma-inspired therapeutics, which will all be supported by AI. 

“To support these three programs, we are investing heavily in single-cell multi-omics, machine-learning-based computational biology, and lab automation.”- Retro Biosciences 

Cellular Reprogramming 

Cellular reprogramming, specifically partial cellular reprogramming, is a new technology involving the reversion of cells back to an earlier stage of development, essentially making them younger. 

In mice, reprogramming has been shown to reverse signs of aging in multiple organs and increase lifespan. Scientists have even made human skin cells 30 years younger with cellular reprogramming. More recently, Rejuvenate Bio reprogrammed mice using existing gene therapy methods, suggesting the technology could be administered via gene therapy

Still, there is lots of work to be done, as there is much to learn about the biology of cellular reprogramming. 

“Our cellular reprogramming effort is closest to fundamental research and farthest upstream in the mechanisms of aging.” – Retro Biosciences


Autophagy is a natural biological process that rids cells of waste. Dysfunctional autophagy is a key feature of cellular aging. Some promising anti-aging molecules targeting dysfunctional autophagy already exist. For example, urolithin A has been shown to improve muscle health in older adults, and rapamycin has been shown to mitigate age-related osteoporosis in mice

While the details are sparse, Retro seems to have their own autophagy-targeting molecule in the works. 

 “We have a molecule in our autophagy program that will enter the clinic in the next year.” – Retro Biosciences

Plasma-Inspired Therapeutics 

Studies showing that young mouse blood reverses the aging of old mice are what inspired Altman to venture into exploring human longevity. With other studies, like one showing that umbilical cord plasma reduces mortality risks and improves kidney function in older adults, it can be surmised that key anti-aging factors are contained within the plasma of our blood. Therefore, it may be possible to develop a plasma-inspired anti-aging therapeutic. 

“In our plasma program, we’re characterizing and optimizing plasma interventions in both preclinical and clinical settings, with the first development candidate expected in two years.” – Retro Biosciences

Retro Biosciences Joins the Race to Slow Aging 

The Retro team plans to design therapeutics capable of preventing multiple age-related diseases by targeting the underlying cellular drivers of aging in the hope of extending lifespan. This ambitious goal is in line with the goal of most longevity research today, and Retro Bio joins a handful of biotech companies in the race. However, according to the MIT Technology Review, Altman is not concerned with this competition. He says we need an “OpenAI-type effort” to pick up the pace. 


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