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Success at the XPRIZE Foundation – Article by Keith Comito

Success at the XPRIZE Foundation – Article by Keith Comito

Keith Comito


Editor’s Note: The U.S. Transhumanist Party features this article by Keith Comito of the Life Extension Advocacy Foundation (LEAF), originally published on the LEAF site on May 20th, 2019.  The article brings attention to a new project from XPRIZE, focusing on Human Longevity, which the U.S. Transhumanist Party supports as part of our policy goals.

~ Brent Reitze, Director of Publication, United States Transhumanist Party, August 4, 2019


On April 29th and 30th, the XPRIZE Foundation hosted an event at its headquarters in Culver City, California that could have a profound effect on the evolving landscape of biorejuvenation research: the Future of Longevity Impact Roadmap Lab.

For those unfamiliar, the XPRIZE Foundation is famous for designing multi-million-dollar, global competitions to incentivize the development of technological breakthroughs, perhaps the most well-known being its first: the Ansari XPRIZE, which offered a $10,000,000 award for the first non-governmental organization to launch a reusable manned spacecraft into space twice within two weeks.

With this event, the purpose of which was to gather subject matter experts to brainstorm a potential longevity-research prize, XPRIZE has turned its focus towards solving the critical problem of age-related diseases on society and extending healthy human lifespan for all. As I was fortunate enough to directly participate in this exciting meeting, I’d like to share some of my experiences with you all.

The Room Where It Happens

The first thing I noticed upon entering the XPRIZE headquarters was how impressive it is, both in terms of size and in its almost museum-like quality of showcasing innovations in which the foundation has had a hand over the past few decades — statues, trophies, a large rocketship model hanging from the ceiling. Simply put, it is a facility designed to make you think “big things happen here”, and the significance of the fact that attendees such as myself were gathered here to “discover innovative and accessible ways to radically extend everyone’s healthy lifespan” was not lost on me. The times are changing, and changing fast — the tide is turning.

The second thing I noticed was just how diverse the group of attendees was, a veritable who’s who of the broader pro-longevity movement: researchers such as Drs. Steve Horvath and Greg Fahy, investors such as Sergey Young (board member of XPRIZE and creator of the $100m Longevity Vision Fund), long-time advocates such as myself, Aubrey de Grey, and Jim Strole, global policy makers, journalists, cryonicists such as Max More, transhumanists such as Zoltan Istvan and Natasha Vita-More, and of course XPRIZE founder Peter Diamandis.

I confess that I was not initially sure how this eclectic group would gel together in the brainstorming sessions to follow, but what was clear to me was that this could be the beginning of a watershed moment for overcoming the diseases of aging. This is the kind of room where it happens.

The Task at Hand

After the stage-setting opening talk by noted futurist Ray Kurzweil, the proceedings quickly shifted to the stated purpose of the gathering: brainstorming the most impactful and audacious ideas to overcome the negative aspects of aging and age-related disease on society.

To facilitate this, the attendees, numbering approximately 70, were divided into tables of four or five — each person tasked with generating a preliminary idea for a longevity-focused XPRIZE and further charged with convincing the rest of their table that their proposed idea should be the one put forth by their table to the rest of the group for consideration. My table happened to include Aubrey de Grey, and thus I knew that a lively discussion was all but assured.

Before beginning to debate the design of an ideal contest, however, it is necessary to understand what qualities and parameters typically make for an effective XPRIZE, and, as such, we were presented with some examples of these — having clearly verifiable goals, the ability to catalyze new markets by targeting specific industry failures, projecting a telegenic vision of hope that the public can rally behind, etc.

The entire group of attendees was also engaged to discuss how the realities of healthy life extension might relate to these various parameters, and, in this exercise, I am glad to note how instrumental the analytical work done by our outreach and writing departments at LEAF was in providing actionable information to the group. One example: when the XPRIZE team asked how the concept of gender inclusivity might relate to an ideal longevity-focused prize, the work of our team allowed me to quickly relay relevant statistics such as how a high percentage of family healthcare decisions are made by women, polling data on the desirability of life extension for both men and women, and how disparities in perception of increased longevity alter depending on how the topic is framed.

When it came time to begin brainstorming, many interesting ideas were discussed at our particular table, including the development of composite biomarkers to validate therapies targeting the aging process, and ways in which blockchain technologies could be used to accelerate drug discovery.

The idea I personally put forth was a conceptually simple one: meaningful physiological remediation of dementia (not just proxy diagnostics or biomarkers) by 2030. I thought this was well suited to the the XPRIZE qualities of “bold, but feasible” and “define the problem, not the solution”, and it has several other  factors in its favor, namely that dementia is by far the most damaging aspect of aging in terms of protracted emotional suffering and large-scale socioeconomic effects, it is the one aspect of aging that everyone already unequivocally believes is horrific and needs solving, the existing system has failed to solve it for decades, many promising therapy angles have no traditional profit motive and thus will not come to market without additional incentive, success would be clear to validate, and curing it would create an amazing and hopeful narrative with which to enlist the entire world in overcoming all of the diseases of aging.

Aubrey apparently agreed, and with his vote of confidence, this idea became one of the prize concepts pitched to the entire group for consideration. Ideas arising from the other tables’ groups covered a wide range of topics as well, included growing fully functional organs from stem cells, demonstrating the arrest of epigenetic markers of aging, successful brain transplantation, creation of an ageless mouse, and restoration of homeostatic and damage repair mechanisms in the elderly. After the completion of these presentations, it was time for lunch, with the expectation that upon their return, each attendee would join the table of whichever idea they believed in the most and help to refine it.

It was at this time that I became most uncertain of the future of my own pitched concept, as just prior to the break, one of the organizers mentioned that XPRIZE was already planning an Alzheimer’s-focused contest, and several attendees mentioned during lunch that they had planned to join our table but now supposed that it was better to support a different project instead. Sure enough, when lunch was completed, my table had become empty, but as the contest idea that I was advocating was actually quite different and larger in scope than the mentioned existing initiative, I chose to continue refining it during the ensuing session.

The final activity for the first day was for the team leaders of the newly reorganized tables to present their refined concepts on a poster shown to the entire group of attendees, who would then place stickers to vote for the concepts that they felt most worthy of actually becoming an XPRIZE. There were 18 concepts in total, all interesting, but one that I felt was noteworthy for its difference from the rest was a $5 million “Longevity Peace Prize” for whoever could convince a national government to declare aging to be a disease. This bears similarity to one of the concepts I sent to XPRIZE ahead of the event — to award $10 million to whoever could convince a national government to allocate $10 billion to aging research (a 1000x impact return and in line with other initiatives, such as the Human Genome Project and the Brain Initiative) — and one that I believe is important to have in the running in order to remind the attendees that some of the most impactful initiatives that we could choose may actually not be directly related to research.

When it came time for the actual voting, I confess that my expectations were not high for my own pitched concept, given what had transpired earlier. Thus, I was honestly shocked when it emerged as one of the top three choices along with the arresting of epigenetic markers concept mentioned above and one from Aubrey focusing on limited, but specifically measured, human rejuvenation by 2032.

As some of you reading this may know, the terrors of dementia have had a profound impact on my own family – a story that is now becoming all too common – and it would be a lie to state that seeing the support for eradicating this affliction at an event such as this did not challenge my emotional composure.

Audacity and the Time for Impact

On the second and final day of the event, I happened to meet Aubrey on the road to the venue, as it turned out that both of us preferred to walk from our hotels a few miles away. It was a nice day, and this was a welcome pleasure before returning to meet the rest of the attendees.

Once gathered again at the XPRIZE headquarters, the focus of the group became much narrower than it was on the previous day, as we were tasked to assess the top five highly voted projects from earlier on very specific criteria: How audacious is the concept? How impactful will its success and/or attempts at success be towards achieving the ultimate goal? In what timeframe can we reasonably expect a proof-of-concept? In what timeframe can we reasonably expect wide-scale adoption?

In terms of an ideal XPRIZE contest, the sought-after configuration was maximal impact and audacity, a proof-of-concept expected date achievable within 10 or 15 years, and with the shortest possible time period between proof-of-concept and widespread adoption.

The assigning of these metrics for each proposal involved a discussion among the entire group on each point, and it is interesting to note that, despite the wide diversity of backgrounds represented in the room, there was generally strong consensus on how each concept was ranked in all cases.

When all was said and done, two concepts stood firmly in the upper-right quadrant of the charts that we had collectively made, which denoted “XPRIZE Territory”. These were the aforementioned proposals put forth by Aubrey and myself: limited but specifically measured human rejuvenation by 2032 and meaningful physiological remediation of dementia by 2030.

It was at this time that my emotional composure circuits may have suffered a minor systems failure, but I won’t tell anyone if you won’t.

Now the Turning of the Tide

Of course, with the current exercise completed and the attendees now back to their respective homes and workplaces, it remains to be seen just how the outcome will inform the immediate plans of the XPRIZE Foundation.

Regardless of how quickly a longevity-focused XPRIZE contest is launched, my personal assessment is that this event was an extremely positive one — another clear marker that for whatever battles lie ahead of us to overcome the diseases of aging, some critical battles have already been won. Public perception in terms of the feasibility and desirability of positively affecting the aging processes is profoundly changing, and fast. Influential stakeholders and organizations such as XPRIZE are seeing that the time is now to drive forward a future in which diseases such as Alzheimer’s are just a memory. That is partly because of you, and especially those of you who have been fighting for many years for this cause — take a moment to feel that. Ten years ago, this would not have happened.

Finally, I would like to say that it was a truly humbling and exciting experience to participate in this event, working with a dynamic group of experts to come up with the most impactful and audacious ideas for overcoming the negative aspects of aging on society. Thank you to all who attended and organized; I look forward to meeting again.

Keith Comito is President of LEAF / Lifespan.io and a long-time advocate of longevity research. He is also a computer programmer, mathematician, musician, lover of life, and perhaps a man with too many hobbies. He earned a B.S. in Mathematics, B.S. in Computer science, and M.S. in Applied Mathematics at Hofstra University, where his work included analysis of the LMNA protein.

An Interview with Sergey Young by Nicola Bagalà

An Interview with Sergey Young by Nicola Bagalà

Sergey Young
Nicola Bagalà


Editor’s Note: The U.S. Transhumanist Party features this article by our guest Nicola Bagalà, originally published by the Life Extension Advocacy Foundation (LEAF) on July 4, 2019. In this article, Mr. Bagalà interviews Sergey Young, a board member of XPRIZE and the creator of the $100 million Longevity Vision Fund. They cover a number of topics, such as the longevity companies that Sergey has invested in, the Longevity Xprize, Sergey’s new book, callled Growing Young: A Simple Guide to Age Reversal, along with many more topics. I highly recommend this read.

~ Bobby Ridge, Assistant Editor, July 8, 2019


We recently had the opportunity to interview Sergey Young, a board member of XPRIZE and the creator of the $100 million Longevity Vision Fund.

When did you first become interested in healthy life extension, and why?

My interest began with a routine visit to a doctor. Five years ago, at the age of 42, my blood tests – which I neglected for 7 years, thinking I was in perfect health – showed that my cholesterol was extremely high, putting me at risk of one of the most common killers: heart disease.

The only treatment offered by my doctor at the time was to take statins (cholesterol-reducing medication) for the rest of my life. However, this seemed unnatural and potentially dangerous for the body, and I definitely did not want to “live” on a pill forever. I refused to accept this as the only option (the doctor even made me sign a waiver for refusing treatment) and kept pushing for alternatives. Eventually, the doctor suggested I try a Mediterranean-style diet (based around healthy fats, cutting out sugar, etc.), which worked in bringing my cholesterol down to a normal range without any medication at all.

It’s a pity that doctors, even well-meaning ones, do not start with dietary changes first. Since then, I developed an interest in diet and a lifestyle-based approach to health and longevity, and hope I can share this knowledge with as many people as possible.

However, it was the meeting with Peter Diamandis last year in Vatican City at a conference on regenerative medicine, which was also attended by the Pope, that really kickstarted my mission in longevity. Peter is such an inspiring individual, and his XPRIZE Foundation served as a great example of how you can make a difference on a large scale. It was the perfect platform to make my interest in longevity serve to the benefit of society as a whole.

In your opinion, what are the most important reasons why the pursuit of healthy longevity should be a priority for human society?

Our lives are like “Groundhog Day”: we spend most of our lives working until we decline into old age and illness – possibly without having had the time or health to enjoy life to the fullest.

However, pursuing healthy longevity can potentially extend our lives by 25% or more. Having an extra 25 years of lifespan gives us the opportunity to pursue our dreams, spend more time with our children and grandchildren, and do the things that really matter – but that we have not had time for.

This cause is so close to your heart that you’re actually writing a book about it—no easy task. Is it your first book?

Yes, this is my first book. Hopefully not my last.

I am putting a lot of time and effort into making longevity as practical and easy to read about as possible. I see it as a way of helping as many people as possible learn about life extension and making their lives more longevity-friendly. If this leads to follow-on books, covering longevity diets, or longevity exercises, for example, I would be happy to fulfill the readers’ requests.

What made you decide that it was time for you to write one?

When I first got into longevity, there were only two types the longevity books available: either 300-page books with a single hypothesis drawn out, or “encyclopedias” that were nearly impossible for the general population to read without a specialized degree.

That’s why I decided to write “Growing Young: Simple Guide to Age Reversal” – something well-researched and comprehensive, yet simple and engaging for the general reader.

I understand that we’re some way from finding your book on the shelves; can you give us a sneak peek by telling us a little about what topics you’re going to cover?

The book is heavy-packed with a lot of varied content. Here is a taster of some of the topics included:

  • Technological longevity breakthroughs – what is already available that can extend our lifespans by up to 10 years, and technologies that could emerge in the near future to extend our lifespans even further
  • Ethical trade offs of living to 200
  • Economics of longevity

Has a release date, or time frame, for the book been decided yet?

Our planned release date is spring 2020.

You’re the founder of the Longevity Vision Fund, whose goal is to accelerate longevity breakthroughs and make them affordable for as many as possible as soon as possible. Many people fear that life extension would be only for the rich, so what’s your plan to make your vision come true, especially regarding affordability?

The focus of Longevity Vision Fund is on affordable and accessible technology. As with every area of technology, it undergoes a democratization process, becoming progressively more affordable to a wider range of people. The mission of Longevity Vision Fund is to enable and speed up the democratization of longevity-related technology by investing in companies and services that have the potential to become scalable, accessible, and affordable for the general population.

LVF is a rather new initiative; what has it achieved thus far?

Longevity Vision Fund was launched in February 2019, but we have already come a long way. For example, we raised most of the capital in just 3 months. We have assembled an impressive Advisory Board of five leading longevity scientists: Aubrey De Grey, Vadim Gladyshev, Joao de Magalhaes, Richard Faragher, and Morten Scheibye-Knudsen.

We also entered into a collaboration partnership with BOLD Capital (Peter Diamandis’s fund), and LVF has already invested in four companies to date.

What areas of life extension research, or life extension in general, will be LVF’s primary focus?

We like to invest in fields such as AI, diagnostics, wearables & devices, stem-cell treatments, and organ regeneration.

Does LVF have a roadmap, or a tentative time frame, describing when specific goals should ideally be achieved?

As mentioned above, we have already achieved very significant milestones for a fund that has just been launched last year. Our main goal for the future is achieving our mission in stimulating progress in longevity breakthroughs to make them affordable to as many people as possible.

This is a progressive goal, and it would be impossible and irresponsible to make specific claims exactly as to when and by how much lifespans will be expanded.

Let’s talk about XPRIZE a little bit. You’ve been on the XPRIZE Innovation Board for over a year now. What is your job as a member of this board?

In addition to being on the XPRIZE Innovation Board, I am also the Development Sponsor of Longevity XPRIZE. My job is to define the strategy of Longevity XPRIZE, help choose the areas of most impact, and attract and unite the brightest minds that could lead solutions to the world’s biggest problems – aging being one of them, since it affects us all.

What led you to join XPRIZE?

As you probably already know, I am extremely passionate about longevity, and I want to use it to make a difference in the world. I want to help people live longer, healthier, and happier lives. Since meeting Peter Diamandis, XPRIZE has become the perfect high-impact platform for working on the world’s biggest issues

Speaking of XPRIZE, you took part in its recent Future of Longevity brainstorming session, in which our president, Keith Comito, had the pleasure to meet you. Can you share your impressions of the event?

As the Development Sponsor, I could be biased, so I would be more interested in hearing Keith Comito’s thoughts!

On a serious note, I thought it turned out to be a great, collaborative event with a constellation of over 50 of the world’s Longevity Leaders. I am grateful to everyone who came and made it such a success.

The goal of the brainstorming session was to design a Longevity XPRIZE that may further catalyze the development of a thriving longevity industry; our readers already know something about it from Keith’s article, but, as an insider, is there anything more you could share with us, such as when the prize might launch or if more proposals are being evaluated?

We expect to launch next year, and the exact date will probably be announced during XPRIZE Visioneering in October. I am really looking forward to it, since it is a great big event where ideas for future XPRIZE initiatives are discussed. There are also lots of amazing people in attendance – last year, Pharrell Williams and Eric Schmidt were there, for example.

Besides the upcoming Longevity XPRIZE, are you involved in other XPRIZE initiatives?

Yes, I was also involved in the Global Learning XPRIZE, where I coached five finalists in the competition. The result of their work was to give children in African countries a tool to learn English (or their native language, Swahili) by themselves, without an adult, in just 12 months, using an app.

Speaking again of affordability, even if life-extension medicine eventually becomes affordable, we can’t expect that to happen overnight. How long, in your opinion, will it take before it’ll be cheap enough to be widespread?

Life extension is a very complex issue – if there were a simple solution, evolution would probably already have taken care of it.

I expect that various technological breakthroughs, scientific research, and the work of many people around the world (including our small team at Longevity Vision Fund) will collectively contribute to the continuous evolution of longevity and the prolongation of human lifespans. However, as I mentioned before, it would be impossible to predict when exactly this will happen and exactly how widespread we can make life-extension medicine.

Let me ask a few personal questions again. Many people, even life-extension enthusiasts, are not convinced that major breakthroughs will happen during their lifetimes. How about you; do you expect to “make the cut”?

I visualize myself living to 200, and whether I get to live to 200 or not, is arbitrary. The mindset of living to 200 myself stimulates me to live, work, and contribute to longevity to the best of my ability, since I am more passionate about improving the lives of others than focusing just on my own. As Peter Diamandis says, “the best way to become a billionaire is to help a billion people.”

Besides that, I definitely expect to see significant breakthroughs during my own lifetime and even bigger breakthroughs in the coming generations.

In your XPRIZE biography, I read that you’re a “happy co-founder of a diversified portfolio of 4 kids.” I take it as a funny way to say you’ve got four children; do you talk to them about life extension? What do they think of it?

I do talk about longevity and life extension to my two oldest kids: the 20-year-old and the 8-year-old. However, they see longevity as their father’s passion rather than something they are interested in as a topic. That’s understandable – hardly anyone under 30 thinks about aging.

As for my two youngest kids aged 5 and 1, I tell them “longevity bedtime stories”: tales involving “good” healthy foods, and avoiding “evil” sugar, sweet drinks, fast food, etc.

You make no mystery of your wish to live to two hundred. Is it just two hundred or at least two hundred?

To most people, both sound equally unbelievable, so with my binary thinking, I just focus on the number “200”.

Many people out there wonder what we’d do if we lived much longer than the current status quo. What would you do with that kind of extra time?

Adding an extra 25 years to our lifespans gives us fundamentally new options: spending more time with children and grandchildren, redefining our lives, getting new careers, and working on solving the world’s problems.

I would, of course, spend more time with my family and continue my work in solving the problems and diseases of aging. But this is a question that everyone can ask themselves. What would you do if your life were extended by a quarter?

As a final question, are there other causes than life extension that you find very important or are personally involved in?

Apart from focusing on doing good on a global scale, as with my work on longevity, I like to make a difference on a smaller scale as well. While it’s important to work on solving global problems, it’s just as important to connect and support communities locally. For example, every New Year’s, my wife, my kids, and I give away festive food sets to families in need. We started with 100 families, and last year, that number reached 300.

I would also like to end this question by thanking LEAF and, in particular, its president, Keith Comito. Thank you for your dedication in promoting life extension and for building such a fantastic and comprehensive longevity platform like LEAF!

Nicola Bagalà is a bit of a jack of all trades—a holder of an M.Sc. degree in mathematics; an amateur programmer; a hobbyist at novel writing, piano and art; and, of course, a passionate life extensionist. After his interest in the science of undoing aging arose in 2011, he gradually shifted from quiet supporter to active advocate in 2015, first launching his advocacy blog Rejuvenaction before eventually joining LEAF. These years in the field sparked an interest in molecular biology, which he actively studies. Other subjects he loves to discuss to no end are cosmology, artificial intelligence, and many others—far too many for a currently normal lifespan, which is one of the reasons he’s into life extension.