In this article we celebrate the women driving longevity research and contributing to this dynamic and ever-growing sector.
A focal point in the movement for women’s rights, International Women’s Day sees people and groups celebrate women’s achievements and campaign for gender parity. So allow me to set-aside any unconscious-unconscious-bias and introduce Longevity.Technology’s Deputy Editor, and long-time colleague, Eleanor Garth.
IWD takes the theme of Choose to Challenge this year; the longevity sector is all about challenge, whether it’s the latest research, cutting-edge tech, taking a therapy from idea to market or selling the idea that longevity is about maximising healthspan, rather than everlasting life.
I have been privileged to meet, interview and write about a wide range of women who are contributing to the longevity space, and to a woman, what shines through is an ethos of selflessness and an appreciation that accretion matters – small steps now can make a big difference later, both to lifespan and healthspan. This rings true whether one is looking down a microscope, or analysing a macro-economy.
Of course, this article could never cram in all the women I’d like to mention, but here are a few to give you an idea of the enormous contributions being made to the longevity space.
If you have even the slightest interest in agetech, then Dr Lorraine Morley is a name you need to know; Dr Morley helps innovators overcome barriers to access markets and is the UK Lead / Advisor for AgeTech Accelerator which provides free business support to innovators with products and services for the emerging silver economy.
Dr Morley told me that one of the barriers to main-streaming the market for goods and services which support healthy ageing and later-life living is establishing trust in products and getting the price points right in a market that is breaking new ground. By establishing the products in the B2B market first, the B2B consumer market will follow naturally, and Dr Morley and her team help to do this by finding ways to de-risk the commissioning, testing and piloting of products and through creating new financing models.
Dr Lynne Cox is Associate Professor in Biochemistry at the University of Oxford where she studies the molecular basis of human ageing, with the aim of reducing the morbidity and frailty associated with old age. Dr Cox is passionate about geroscience – the study of ageing which seeks to understand how biology, chronic disease and health intersect.
Her recent call in both The Lancet and Longevity.Technology for the initiation trials of potential geroprotective therapies has received much welcome; aging is not just accompanied by an increased risk of chronic health conditions, but also infectious diseases, and nowhere is this more obvious than in the COVID-19 death statistics. These demonstrate that mortality rises gradually with age until the late 60s, but then it accelerates, so that people over 80 years old are at greatly elevated risk. “In order to protect this most vulnerable population group from COVID, we need to address the reason they are so vulnerable,” Dr Cox told me.
Tina Woods is Founder and CEO of Collider Health and CEO and co-founder of Longevity International, a social enterprise bringing together stakeholders in government, science and business to enhance equitable access to the longevity dividend. She is the Secretariat Director of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Longevity in the UK.
Woods is also co-author of the Health of the Nation Strategy and her book Live Longer with AI: How Artificial Intelligence is Helping Us Extend our Healthspan and Live Better Too was published last October and features interviews with 30 pioneers in AI, genomics and longevity and explores the latest thinking in science and society for living longer, healthier, better lives.
Woods is interested in system change; rather than keeping the ball in motion to perpetuate unhealthy behaviours and lifestyle practices, she is pushing for systemic change in how people think about their health, and championing the use of AI to identify accurate biomarkers of ageing for personalised health interventions.
Eleanor Sheekey is working towards a PhD in p53 and senescence at Cambridge, but she is better known as the writer and presenter of The Sheekey Science Show, a straightforward look at various (often mind-blowing) concepts in longevity science that is as accessible and entertaining, as it is accurate and scientifically detailed.
Communicating scientific ideas and concepts is a skill in itself – after all, who is going to buy a product or invest in development of an idea they can’t understand. “You only have to look at the last year,” Eleanor told me, “to see how poorly science communication can be done – all the fake advice and misinformation.”
Eleanor’s videos raise the profile of the sector and bridge the gap (which is sometimes a gulf) between scientist and laywoman, but she is incredibly modest, letting the science be the star of the show.
BIOAGE co-founder and CEO Dr Kristen Fortney leads her company in its mission to develop a broad pipeline of therapies that target ageing in order to increase healthspan and address chronic diseases. BIOAGE closed a whopping $90 million Series C funding round at the end of last year, and have just announced a Phase 2a clinical trial of a compound to tackle unexplained anaemia of ageing (UAA).
Dr Fortney is passionate about bioinformatics and data-driven investigation; by analysing data harvested from its proprietary biobank platform, BIOAGE discovered that a certain biological pathway correlates with higher physical and cognitive function and a significant chance of living to 85 or more. BIOAGE’s proprietary compound prevents the inhibition of this pathway, thus improving outcomes for UAA sufferers.
“UAA is both highly prevalent and highly morbid, dramatically decreasing quality of life in its patients and imposing a tremendous pharmacoeconomic burden,” said Dr Fortney.