(Bloomberg) -- The XPrize Foundation, a nonprofit that funds scientific research, said it will award $101 million to anti-aging research, a topic that is often dismissed as a quixotic quest for the fountain of youth.
The award is the largest in the history of the foundation, which has launched more than two dozen prizes since its inception in 1994. The competition will run seven years, and focus on therapeutics that restore muscle, cognition, and immune function by a minimum of 10 years in people 65-to-80 years old — in one year or less.
The XPrize was announced Thursday in Riyadh at the Global Healthspan Summit hosted by the Hevolution Foundation, a nonprofit focused on aging.
Hevolution, helmed by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, is one of two co-title sponsors. Hevolution is funded by the Saudi government and is allowed to receive investment from individuals, endowments, and private sector donors in Saudi Arabia. The other is Solve FSHD, an organization that’s chaired by Lululemon Athletica Inc. founder Chip Wilson, which encourages research into a rare disease, facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy (FSHD).
Other donors include Carl B. Barney, who has a nonprofit dedicated to advancing Ayn Rand’s philosophies, and Christian Angermayer, an investor in psychedelics, longevity research and cryptocurrency, and a co-founder of Swiss biotech firm Rejuveron Life Sciences AG.
Aside from the blood transfusions and penis-shocking experiments of Bryan Johnson, a wealthy software entrepreneur who spends millions annually to extend his life, new interest in longevity has been stirred by a recent string of investments in the Middle East. Prince Mohammed allocated more than $1 billion a year to the Hevolution Foundation. And in September, Rejuveron attracted backing from Abu Dhabi sovereign fund Mubadala Investment Co.
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“I’m just not happy with 100 years,” said XPrize Executive Chairman Peter Diamandis, speaking at a November event. “If Greenland sharks can live longer, why can’t we?” he said. Greenland sharks live at least 250 years, by scientists’ estimates.
Skeptics of longevity research raise concerns about whether it will unequally benefit the wealthy, or contribute to economic problems caused by aging demographics. Proponents say its true value lies in the potential to eliminate disease and increase the healthy years of human life. According to the World Health Organization, while average life expectancy is increasing globally — to 73.4 years as of 2019 — the number of years a person can expect to spend in full health, without disability or disease — until age 63.7 — isn’t growing at the same pace.
The foundation is still finalizing judging criteria to determine how many teams may be awarded. On top of the $101 million, there will be a $10 million bonus prize designated for FSHD, and $30 million to fund operations at the XPrize Foundation, a spokesman said.
The second-largest XPrize to date was a $100 million project to fund carbon removal projects with a grant from Elon Musk, who once served on XPrize’s board.
Other past prizes include the Ansari XPrize, named for Anousheh Ansari, XPrize Foundation’s chief executive officer. That prize was designed to lower the risk and cost of going into space, and Richard Branson licensed the winning technology to form Virgin Galactic. The XPrize has generated over 890 patent filings and 590 trademark filings from past proposals, according to the spokesman.
(Updates to add link to statement and to reflect announcement was made. An earlier version of this story corrected the spelling of Christian Angermayer’s name.)
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