‘We are on the verge of a lifespan revolution. Life expectancy is going to rise to between 110 and 130 in the next 30 years. This is not science fiction.”
Jim Mellon’s vision may be optimistic but it’s certainly not fanciful. He came to the conclusions he draws in his new book, Juvenescence, after he immersed himself in the subject of longevity research for well over a year.
This included a 7,000-mile road trip around America, visiting scientists at the cutting edge of this research.
He’s not doing it for the money: Mellon’s wealth is estimated at £920m and he’s giving away the profits from the book to help fund further research into anti-ageing.
Neither is he a starry-eyed optimist. His first book, Wake Up! Survive and Prosper in the Coming Economic Turmoil warned – correctly of course – of the impending financial crisis. Since then his predictions have been followed closely by investors.
He has already written about disruptive technology and investing in drug research, and this new book, a logical follow-on from the latter, is about investing in anti-ageing research.
This is not just about finding drugs to eliminate what he calls the “Deadly Quintet” of life-threatening diseases: cancer, cardiac disease, respiratory disease, dementia and diabetes.
“That would confer a maximum of about 15 years of extra life to human beings, well below the 30 extra years that we believe is possible in the relatively short term,” Mellon said. “If you can stay alive for another 10 to 20 years, if you aren’t yet over 75 and if you remain in reasonable health for your age, you have an excellent chance of living to more than 110.”
Rapid increases in our average lifespan are not new. Following single-figure percentage increases in each of the previous five centuries, the 20th century saw life expectancy rise by 42pc from its 1900 level of just 49 years.
Mellon said: “The reasons for that are better sanitation, more effective treatment for cancer, lower cardiac death rates and less bacterial infection, though there’s antibiotic resistance now so that’s a bit of a problem. But generally a whole accumulation of things is leading to longer lifespans.”
The next quantum leap he foresees, one that a growing band of distinguished scientists around the world are currently researching, will centre on finding ways to allow our bodies’ repair mechanisms to stay ahead of the wear and tear of everyday existence.
And Mellon reckons that we will not just be living longer but remaining healthy too, “not dribbling away in a nursing home”, as he put it.
The implications are enormous. “This will be the biggest thing in the history of the world,” he said. “The old paradigm of born, learn, work, retire, expire will change as careers become multi-faceted and education continues throughout our lives.”
Britain’s pensions system is already groaning under the strain, despite rises in the state pension age, and those strains will only intensify with an ageing population. Retiring at 65, or even 70, will soon no longer be viable – and, if we remain fit, probably no longer desirable either.
As a result, “we need to be a little smarter with our investments and savings”, Mellon said. But this is where, in a neat full circle, anti-ageing research itself comes in. “[People] are going to need more economic fuel – savings – to keep them going as their life extends to a far-off horizon,” he said.
“With the science now catching up to the aspirations of ‘life-extensionists’, this is truly the biggest money fountain we have ever seen. “We are also fortunate to be present at the birth of a new industry – the business of longevity. This industry will be bigger than technology, alternative energy, transportation, education and the rest of the ‘zeitgeist’ sectors put together.”