Saudi Arabia’s billion-dollar-a-year anti-aging initiative, the Hevolution Foundation, aims to change the lives of millions of people worldwide and add trillions of dollars to global GDP by extending healthy lifespan across the planet, its CEO said during the opening of the inaugural Global Healthspan Summit in Riyadh on Wednesday.
In the largest-ever gathering of geroscience, more than 2,000 people, including scientists and research institutions, innovators and entrepreneurs, investors, corporate leaders, international organizations & non-profits, and dignitaries, have come together for a summit under the banner, ‘Together We Thrive.’
The two-day summit aims to revolutionize how the world views aging and healthspan science.
As Al Arabiya English reported earlier this year, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman issued a royal decree four years ago to establish the Kingdom’s Hevolution Foundation. He pledged a vast financial investment - over one billion dollars per year - into research that would extend the healthy human lifespan. The not-for-profit foundation aims to democratize access to anti-aging science to benefit all of humanity.
In his opening address, Dr. Mehmood Khan, CEO of the Hevolution Foundation, said: “That commitment was one of the largest financial support mechanisms in this field. Amazingly, four years after being created, and two years after we were launched, we are now the second largest funder of science in this field in the world.”
He said by 2030, when Saudi Arabia hosts the World Expo 2030, the Kingdom will be sharing “the discoveries, the breakthroughs, and the new future that we envision today as it starts to become reality.”
He added: “Imagine the vision of this different future. Imagine a vision of the world where we change the lives of as many people as possible. And I’m talking about hundreds of millions of people’s lives are changed because they live healthier and longer, not just longer for the sake of living longer. Imagine decades of productivity… the economic benefits of that world would be trillions of dollars of GDP impact to [developed] countries and developing countries.”
He continued, “Every human being on the planet will be touched.”
He pointed out that the average human lifespan has increased dramatically over the last several decades – yet if we continue as is, the result is more years in the later stages of life, without necessarily living better or healthier.
According to the CEO, the global community needs to come together to drive efforts to extend the healthy human lifespan, understand the process of aging, and utilize technology.
Academic research, biotech startups
The Hevolution Foundation – a global fund that aims to find and invest in innovative ways to “decelerate” the aging process and extend the number of years people live in good health – is heavily invested in academic research and biotech startups to promote longevity by slowing aging and combating age-related diseases.
“This started with a vision…to create an organization that can expand healthy lifespan for the benefit of all humanity,” Khan said. “This meeting is a gathering of diverse minds of diverse cultures of diversity in thought, diversity in location, diversity and discipline with one goal in mind. How do we change the future of human health by rethinking what aging means to humanity?”
According to the CEO, the one billion humans today who are over 60 will double to two billion by the year 2050.
“The world’s demographic pyramid is going from a lot of young people supporting a few older people…in the future, it is going to invert, with fewer and fewer young people around, be able to take care of, and provide the economic health and physical and societal support for an older population,” he said.
Doing nothing is not an option, Khan pointed out.
“Imagine what that world might become?” he asked. “That’s not acceptable for anybody in this room.”
Princess Dr. Haya Bint Khaled Bin Bandar Al Saud, Vice President of Organizational Strategy & Development at the Hevolution Foundation, said the general public needs more education about unhealthy aging.
“People in this conference have to start with building awareness. I think the general public has to have a better understanding of what we actually mean by healthy aging. And the reason why is I think unhealthy aging is actually impacting every single person across the globe.”
“Imagine a future where women are dropping out of the workforce to care of the sick elderly,” she said. “Or a world which sees a further drop in birth rate and an increase of diseases, causing a chronic shift where [fewer] people can work.”
“So, I think public awareness is key,” she concluded.
Meanwhile, Dr. Tareef AlAama, Deputy Minister of Health for Curative Service at Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Health, said that healthy aging and longevity are at the “forefront and center of our daily discussions in the Ministry of Health.”
“Saudi’s Vision 2030 has put the health of the human being first,” he said.
“And among the promises is to increase the lifespan or life expectancy of individuals from what it used to be in 2016, which is to 74 to 80 years of age by 2030,” he added.
To achieve that, Saudi is looking at scientific and data-driven methods, which look at variability in aging sectors and regions to design interventions that can contribute the most effective, cost-effective way to increase healthy life expectancy.
“What you see by the Hevolution Foundation is a live example of how the Kingdom [aspires] to be the leader in this field. I’m very sure that by 2030, we’re going to achieve our goals.”
The summit heard from global speakers that research into longevity science is woefully underfunded, yet it should be given the same priority as other major health diseases such as cancer, obesity, and diabetes.
Dr. Khan said the majority of healthcare costs in the developing world and in the developed world are driven by age-related diseases yet anti-aging research is seen as the “Cinderella” in terms of financial investment by the private sector. Yet aging is the single most challenge facing humanity today, alongside climate change, he said.
“Our main mission and vision are for people to live as healthy as they can for as long as they can,” he said. “And our goal is to make everything available to as many people as possible. We think every day about democratizing the discoveries and the science and innovation and get that into as many hands of as many people around the world as possible.”
Too often, he said, aging is now seen as a “financial burden” on society and an emotional burden on the youth who caring for the elderly.
This, he said, should not be the case.
Living better for longer will save trillions of dollars in lost productivity and on public expenditure on common diseases, he said.
Jerry McLaughlin, CEO, Life Biosciences, said right now, the world is improving patient’s lives but not changing people’s lives, which is why longevity science is crucial.
“It is imperative we get there…and no longer talk about managing symptoms of disease as we have for age-related conditions for decades.”
The great news, he said, the science is there. Giving an example, he cited the body's remarkable ability to recycle and remove unwanted proteins. However, he notes that as we age, this recycling system becomes less effective, leading to the accumulation of disruptive protein aggregates. The exciting news is that current science enables the restoration of cells to more productive states, indicating a promising direction for the future.
In terms of investment, McLaughlin sees tremendous promise in the field of longevity science. He believes that therapeutics in this area will have a significant impact, both economically and societally. From an investor or large pharma perspective, he emphasizes the critical importance of getting involved now, predicting a future where every pharmaceutical company will adopt a healthspan strategy.
Professor Andrew Scott of London Business School also said longevity science has not received sufficient attention despite the dual challenges of a declining global birth rate and an aging population.
He emphasizes the changing landscape, where individuals born today are expected to live into their 80s and 90s, presenting a new imperative for aging well.
But yet, he said, there is a critical oversight of economic policymakers who have regarded longevity as solely a health issue, neglecting its broader economic implications.
He underscored the urgent need for an extended healthspan to accompany increased life expectancy, emphasizing the importance of not just living longer but living healthier.
Hevolution’s international expansion
As of 2023, Hevolution has expanded outside the Kingdom’s borders – which houses its Riyadh headquarters – into its first international hub in Boston, Massachusetts. The US office makes it the country’s biggest hub for life sciences. It is eying up a further global hub in the United Kingdom by the end of the year and has plans for an Asia hub.
It has also, in the past 18 months, pledged $200 million for research into anti-aging, longevity biotech and healthy lifespan, a planned investment in two biotech companies, evaluated more than 150 companies across the globe as it eyes funding opportunities, is whittling down more than 500 grant applications from scientists around the world, and has published the GCC’s first roadmap in healthy human lifespan.
Saudi scientists given a slice of billion-dollar fund
Of that number, nearly a dozen Saudi scientists have received grants from the billion-dollar fund, contributing to the Kingdom's global initiative to "deaccelerate aging." According to Dr. Khan, 120 Saudi scientists applied for funding to explore innovative approaches to slowing down the aging process, and thus far, 11 have been granted funding.
Dr. Khan elucidated the need for diversified research in biotech sciences, stating, "There is not a single clinic in the GCC today where a patient, as a consumer, can undergo aging biology testing. Our organs age differently, and everyone undergoes aging uniquely. Seeking a doctor's opinion on 'how old am I' is overly simplistic.
Therefore, the Foundation is funding research into diverse diagnostics that accurately reflect the multifaceted nature of aging, he said.