…Treat longevity as a national issue. Once again, the UK (let’s not forget that their healthcare costs are less than half of those in the US!) offer a great example here. Theresa May, the British Prime Minister, announced a plan called “HLE+5” (“HLE” is an abbreviation for “healthy life expectancy”), aiming to extend healthy lifespans of their citizens by 5 years by 2035. It would be great to see a similar initiative in the US.
Asa part of my interview series with leaders in healthcare, I had the pleasure to interview Sergey Young. Sergey Young is Founder of Longevity Vision Fund, one of the world’s top three investment funds specializing in life extension. Sergey is also on the Innovation Board of the XPRIZE Foundation (which is most known for its Ansari XPRIZE and Google Lunar XPRIZE competitions). Sergey Young is also the Development Sponsor of Longevity XPRIZE, a global initiative to cure aging, and a member of the Financial Advisory Board of the Parliamentary Group on Longevity in the UK, helping to devise the national strategy on longevity. Based between the UK & US, Sergey Young’s mission is to extend healthy lifespans of one billion people around the world on both sides of the Atlantic through impactful socially responsible investments and by setting a personal example — after all, his own goal is to live to 200.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Sure! My personal story can appear quite mundane at first, but it is one that affects 95 million Americans. It all started with a routine visit to a doctor, where my blood tests — which I neglected for 7 years, thinking I was in perfect health — showed that my cholesterol was very high, which put me at risk of heart disease.
The only treatment offered by my doctor at the time was to take statins (cholesterol-reducing drugs), which I would have to take for the rest of my life. I definitely did not want to “live” on a pill forever, so I kept pushing my doctor for alternatives. Eventually, the doctor suggested I try a Mediterranean-style diet (lots of healthy fats, no sugar, etc.), which worked in bringing my cholesterol down to a normal range without any medication. Since then, I developed an interest in health and longevity, and decided to use my investment experience (I had been managing a $2 billion private equity fund for 20 years by that point) to accelerate longevity breakthroughs and to make them more affordable and accessible in general. This is how Longevity Vision Fund was launched and the company mission was shaped.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I went to a regenerative medicine conference in Vatican City last year, just at the outset of launching Longevity Vision Fund. Apart from meeting the Pope and seeing Katy Perry in person there, what astonished me the most was when Peter Diamandis — my mentor, friend and the Founder of XPRIZE, was telling the audience about how technology will change over the next couple of decades, allowing us to extend our lives to at least 150. Then he paused, his face lit up with excitement, and asked who in this audience wants to live to 150. Obviously, I immediately raised my hand, but saw Peter’s expression change to shock and surprise — only a very small percentage of people in the room had raised their hands. I was one of the few.
I’d assumed most people would jump at the chance to live longer, if it was offered. But clearly that’s not the case. In fact, in a recent Pew Research report on radical life extension, 56% of American adults said they would not want to live to 120. The opportunity to extend our lives is within reach, and people might
turn it down. So I’ve set out to dispel misinformation, fear and disbelief that this topic commonly incites. Not only through my work at Longevity Vision Fund, but also by sharing information in a book called “Growing Young”, which I hope to release in Q3 2020. I want people to get educated on longevity rather than get scared of it — times have changed and the breakthroughs in medical science and technology now make it entirely realistic to live to 100 and beyond — all within our lifetime!
What makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Probably that the company is driven by someone who plans on living to 200! On a more serious note, Longevity Vision Fund has a focus specifically on affordable and accessible technology. Our goal is to democratize longevity, so we look for scalability and breakthrough potential in the companies we invest in.
A great example of how we make longevity more accessible and affordable is our investment in EXO Imaging, which develops portable ultrasound imaging devices at a very low price point. In fact, it makes ultrasound imaging so affordable that it actually becomes accessible to every healthcare provider in the world. Imagine being able to get your ultrasound scan done at your family physician, without having to be referred to a hospital (with the associated waiting time and costs this can bring!). Or using the portable device anywhere it might be required — at emergencies by ambulance paramedics, or even the patient themselves (after a short training). And since EXO Imaging uses AI to process the scan, it has the potential to maintain, and even exceed, the accuracy of ultrasound scans that rely on interpretations of doctors without the support of this technology. This means that ultrasound scans can become as common and mundane as checking your blood pressure at your doctor’s office. Imagine the relief, affordability and improved access that cancer, thyroid and many other patients can enjoy!
Can you share with our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to and/or see in the healthcare industry? How do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo? Which “pain point” is this trying to address?
I use 3 Horizons of Innovation to map the longevity & healthcare innovation space:
- Horizon 1: technology currently available that has the potential to expand our lifespans to 100 years, such as DIY diagnostics, wearables, digital healthcare delivery, medical software & apps
- Horizon 2: emerging technology with the potential to expand our lifespans to 150 years, such as genome therapy & editing, stem cell therapy, nanorobots, AI-based diagnostics & drug discovery, smart hospitals
- Horizon 3: age reversal, brain-computer integration, avatars, Internet of the Body
At Longevity Vision Fund we focus mostly on horizons 1 and 2. The main “pain point” we are trying to address is making sure that longevity is accessible and affordable to everyone in the world. We do this by supporting scalable technologies with breakthrough potential that can democratize longevity. For example, our portfolio company Insilico, an AI in drug discovery company, has demonstrated its ability to identify design, synthesize and validate a novel drug candidate in just 46 days, compared to the typical 2–3 years required for a standard approach used by the majority of pharma.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- “It is never too late!” As cliché as it sounds, it is true that it is never too late to start a new life, or discover a new calling! I started Longevity Vision Fund at the age of 47, and it is one of the most rewarding things I have ever done in my career.
- “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life”. Working in longevity is a field that not only am I very passionate about, but one that accelerates technological breakthroughs, improves healthcare and ultimately saves lives, which gives me a real sense of meaning and purpose. Moreover, everyone in longevity is very collaborative. We don’t see each other as competitors, but rather as colleagues working on the same goal of extending healthy lifespans for humanity.
- “Look for disruption” — change in healthcare will come not from the “usual suspects” (e.g. big pharma) but from tech giants such as Apple, Google and Microsoft. For example, Apple is currently working on developing a health records ecosystem, the first of its kind to be third party-friendly, which will have personal health records at its core. The market opportunity in healthcare is huge, and Apple sees healthcare and wellness as a core part of its apps, services, and wearables strategies. So in order to predict where healthcare trends will go next, look for companies that have the potential to disrupt the status quo and spark the Longevity Revolution in the healthcare industry, rather than to the established, traditional players.
- “The day before something is truly a breakthrough, it’s a crazy idea” — a great quote from my friend Peter Diamandis. Some people don’t believe I am completely serious when I tell them I plan to live to 200 (in fact, they do not even believe that it is already possible for most of us to live to 100!). But look at the trends: human lifespans have doubled over the past century because of medical breakthroughs. We are winning the fight with “killer monsters,” such as cancer and heart disease, which have been previously incurable. We are actually in the middle of the Longevity Revolution, which is revolutionizing healthcare and expanding the limits of what we previously thought was possible.
- “The best way to become a billionaire is to help a billion people” — another beautiful quote from Peter. You are as rich as the number of people you help, so it is great if you can align your work and your business to serve society and humanity. I am incredibly passionate about extending lifespans of 1 billion people through my work at Longevity Vision Fund — you can see I took this advice quite literally!
Let’s jump to the main focus of our interview. According to this study cited by Newsweek, the US healthcare system is ranked as the worst among high income nations. This seems shocking. Can you share with us 3–5 reasons why you think the US is ranked so poorly?
- The first factor is the cost. America spends more on healthcare than any other developed country. For example, last year America’s healthcare spend was $10,739 per capita, while UK’s spend per capita was less than half of that!
- The second factor is the diet prevalent in the US, which, as we know, plays a very important role in national health overall. About 75% of America’s population eats a diet that is low in vegetables, fruits, dairy, and oils — while notable research such as “Blue Zones” by Dan Buettner or “The China Study” by Colin Campbell and Thomas M. Campbell has proven that a plant-based diet is essential for health and longevity. For further illustration, most of the population in China gets their calories from plant-based foods, while in the US most of the population does not.
- Lastly, Americans do not get enough exercise. In fact, according to new data from the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics, only 23% of adults have enough physical activity in their lives. It has been proven that exercise affects health on so many levels — including improved cognitive function, mental health and sleep quality. Best of all, exercise is free and you do not need to train for a marathon in order to reap its benefits — taking 10,000 daily steps will put you on the road to health and longevity.
You are a “healthcare insider”. Can you share 5 changes that need to be made to improve the overall US healthcare system? Please share a story or example for each.
- Focus on early diagnostics and treatment to improve the affordability of care, drastically reduce medical costs, increase successful recovery rates and ultimately improve the health of all Americans. One example from our own portfolio on how AI in early diagnostics is disrupting healthcare is our portfolio company Freenome. Freenome is a San Francisco-based AI genome diagnostics biotech company, which develops blood tests to diagnose colorectal cancer. Freenome can detect cancer earlier than traditional tests (such as biopsies) that are also more invasive and can miss early signs of the disease. Colorectal cancer is the second most lethal cancer in the U.S., so imagine the impact this technology can have on American cancer patients.
- Encourage employers to create healthy, longevity-friendly work environments that contribute to health and longevity of their employees. We all know that making changes is hard, but when a suitable environment is created, where healthy choices are the default option, this becomes much easier to do! American corporates, especially tech giants such as Google, Facebook and Microsoft, have some fantastic corporate wellness programs that include vegetarian meals, onsite gyms, programs designed to help people to quit smoking. Salesforce, for example, has its own online health and wellness hub “Camp Pono” — a great resource on topics like diet, exercise and meditation, and encourages “Acts of Kindness” contributing to the mental wellbeing of their employees. It would be great to make this mainstream and see every single workplace in America creating an environment that automatically contributes to the health and longevity of its employees. Employers can create their own corporate longevity programs or outsource this to an corporate wellness company — there are many to choose from!
- Bring longevity-oriented health insurance products to the market focusing on prevention and proactively incentivizing healthy lifestyles for clients. A great example of this in practice is a UK health insurance company Vitality, which uses behavioral economics and data analytics to incentivize customers to lead healthier lifestyles. Vitality develops customized heath plans for individual and corporate clients, then tracks progress and rewards healthy behavior with virtual points that can be redeemed for real-life prizes: free Starbucks coffees, cinema tickets and gift cards for other prizes. This way, everybody wins — insurers pay for less claims, employers pay less for health insurance, and employees get healthier and feel better overall.
- Treat longevity as a national issue. Once again, the UK (let’s not forget that their healthcare costs are less than half of those in the US!) offer a great example here. Theresa May, the British Prime Minister, has announced a plan called “HLE+5” (“HLE” is an abbreviation for “healthy life expectancy”), aiming to extend healthy lifespans of their citizens by 5 years by 2035. We are currently working on designing a plan that would enable the government to meet this goal at the Parliamentary Group for Longevity, where I am a member of the Financial Advisory Board. It would be great to see a similar initiative in the US.
- Take responsibility for your own health and longevity. While certain changes can and should be made by the healthcare system, employers, health insurance companies, government bodies — ultimately we all need to take the responsibility for our own health. For example, “Blue Zones” by Dan Buettner demonstrates how exceptional health and longevity can be achieved through personal lifestyles (plant-based diet, exercise, community support etc.) in places where there might not necessarily be a strong healthcare system or government support. So the most efficient ways of managing our health are actually in our own hands, which I think is very empowering!
Thank you! It’s great to suggest changes, but what specific steps would need to be taken to implement your ideas? What can individuals, corporations, communities and leaders do to help?
- Individuals. You can prevent so many illnesses and contribute to a longer and healthier lifespan with just the following three changes to start with:
- Eat a Mediterranean-style plant-based diet low in processed foods and sugar
- Take 10,000 steps each day
- Get regular annual health screening — it is much easier (and cheaper!) to treat a disease in its early stages
Everybody can implement these steps in their lives as of today! If you are interested in learning more, you can read “Blue Zones” by Dan Buettner or go to my website sergeyyoung.com where I put out information on longevity (absolutely for free) as part of my mission to extend lifespans of one billion people. And if you are reading this — that includes you!
- Corporations. Create healthy, longevity-friendly work environments by devising a suitable corporate wellness programs or outsourcing this to a specialized company. It is much easier than it looks — you can announce vegetarian days once a week to get your fiber intake up, designate your cubicle as a meditation room for employees (can be also used to take short naps!), organize “Acts of Kindness” to prevent depression and isolation, like Salesforce does. Even as an employee — you can offer these to your HR department or organize your colleagues to do this with you!
- Communities. Make exercise fun! Go on hikes together to meet your target of 10,000 steps a day. Take group classes. Make new friendships and support each other — this has also been proven to contribute to health and longevity!
- Leaders. Company leaders can seize longevity as an economic opportunity rather than seeing it as a threat. Incorporating an older workforce has the advantage of having access to decades of experience from older employees and building strong cross-generational teams. Technology now makes up and even exceeds any potential loss in productivity. Government leaders can devise a socially inclusive national health and longevity plan that can strategically and proactively contribute to the health of their citizens in the short-term and the long-term
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to be a better healthcare leader? Can you explain why you like them?
Here are my three favorite books:
- “Transcend” by Terry Grossman and Ray Kurzweil. If I could only read one book on longevity — this would be it! This is a comprehensive and rigorously researched work on life extension and a program for “living long enough to live forever”
- “Lifespan” by David Sinclair, a Harvard Medical School professor. Great up to date research on the process of aging and why aging is a disease that can and should be treated
- “The Blue Zones” by Dan Buettner because it is such a thorough study on environments and communities that contribute to health and longevity, which I hope to replicate on a much larger scale. My dream is to make our whole planet a Blue Zone!
Another great resource is Abundance 360 by my friend and XPRIZE Founder Peter Diamandis. It offers some great guidance on understanding how to navigate exponential technology and use it to achieve Moonshots.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Follow me on Linkedin (Sergey Young), Facebook and Twitter (@sergeyyoung200)
Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!