Saudi Arabia plans to spend $1 billion a year on anti-aging research

The Saudi royal family is getting in on the anti-aging movement to the tune of $1 billion a year.
John Loeffler

The battle against aging is probably one of the oldest, if not the oldest, endeavors that humans have ever set our minds to after our immediate survival—and in a lot of ways, these are the same thing. Every instinct in our body is geared towards making it one more day on this earth, one more season, and it's one that we've made considerable progress in.

Human beings are living longer than our ancestors thanks to medical discoveries that turn once terminal conditions into treatable ones. But aging is different; no matter how healthy we are, we cannot stop the aging process. But can we slow it down? 

That's what Saudi Arabia is trying to find out with a new commitment to invest $1 billion a year into anti-aging research. According to the MIT Technology Review, the Saudi royal family has created a non-profit called the Hevolution Foundation that will invest in research focused on the biology behind aging and looking for ways to expand the so-called "health span", or the number of good, healthy years in a person's life.

Though no research has been announced yet, anti-aging researchers are hoping that the expansive oil wealth of Saudi Arabia can lead to large-scale research projects into anti-aging therapies.

“Our primary goal is to extend the period of healthy lifespan,” Mehmood Khan, a former endocrinologist at the Mayo Clinic who was recruited to serve as the foundation's CEO in 2020, said in an interview. "There is not a bigger medical problem on the planet than this one.”

Is it possible to reverse aging?

If you ever find out, patent whatever it is you discovered and retire the richest person in history.

In all seriousness, we don't exactly know, which is why the Hevolution Foundation is looking into basic research on the subject, including promising to fund drug studies with the explicit aim of seeing whether certain drugs will slow down, if not reverse, aging.

One such study that has struggled to find a backer in recent years is the Targeting Aging with Metformin, or TAME trial. It is the first major clinical trial of a drug with the express purpose of testing whether it slows down the aging process in humans. Nir Barzilai, from the Albert Einstein School of Medicine in New York and the originator of the TAME trial, told a London audience in April of this year that Hevolution agreed to fund a substantial part of the trial.

The hope is that by first finding a way to slow the aging process, we could then go on to see whether aging is reversible. It will take years for any studies launched this year or next to come to any conclusions, but it is the first step on a very long road that has to be taken if we're ever going to know if aging is escapable or not.

Is Jeff Bezos investing in immortality?

There are many wealthy patrons of anti-aging research, which is inevitable, really. Rich people don't want to die because they are enjoying their lives, so it's only natural that they should want to extend it as much as possible.

Jeff Bezos is definitely one such investor, helping to fund Altos Labs, which is dedicated to reversing the aging process, in 2021, as well as Unity Technologies, a biotech firm working on anti-aging drugs and therapies, in 2018.

While Bezos does not have any reported investment in Hevolution, these investments are part of a broader movement among the wealthy elite to achieve that species-long aim of cheating death. And if anyone has the money to invest in such studies, these are the people with the means and motive to do so, even if that money were better spent on more common and far deadlier diseases like malaria that continue to ravage poorer areas of the world.

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