There's no denying it: America is getting old. By 2030, the number of Americans older than 65 will have grown by 75 percent to 69 million, and 20 percent of the population will be older than 65 — compared with only 13 percent today.
But what if "getting old" wasn't really "getting old?" What if aging—at least the physical deteriorations that accompany it—was something that could be prevented? It's a lofty idea, but it's one that a new breed of biotech start-ups, scientists, and prominent investors are beginning to tackle.
Peter Thiel is one of those investors. Thiel, the idiosyncratic Facebook investor and PayPal founder who recently paid 20 kids to drop out of college and start companies, was the subject of a recent profile in The New Yorker that dissected a number Thiel's quirks, including his ardent libertarianism and his aversion to seatbelts, and, perhaps most outstandingly, his belief that with the right investments, he might just be able to escape death. Back in 2006, Thiel gave Cambridge anti-aging researcher Aubrey de Grey $3.5 million under the auspices of the Methusaleh Foundation, a non-profit headquartered in Springfield, Virgina, that awards scientists who are working on life-extension therapies. "Probably the most extreme form of inequality is between people who are alive and people who are dead," Thiel told The New Yorker.
In 2010, Thiel and his partners at Founders Fund, a Bay Area venture capital firm, invested $500,000 in Halcyon Molecular, a biotech start-up whose 28-year-old founder has a "dream to create a world free from cancer and aging."
To understand the fund's investment, you have to appreciate what Founders Fund is—or, more specifically, what it is not.
"These are not guys who care about an extra million dollars," says Brian Singerman, a partner at Founders Fund along with Thiel. "These are guys who wanted to do something amazing for the world."