Saudi Arabia to Spend $1 billion a Year to Slow Aging

Anyone who has more money than they know what to do with eventually tries to cure aging. Google founder Larry Page has tried it. Jeff Bezos has tried it. Tech billionaires Larry Ellison and Peter Thiel have tried it. Now the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which has about as much money as all of them put together, is going to try it. The Saudi royal family has started a not-for-profit organization called the Hevolution Foundation that plans to spend up to $1 billion a year of its oil wealth supporting basic research on the biology of aging and finding ways to extend the number of years people live in good health, a concept known as “health span.”

The sum, if the Saudis can spend it, could make the Gulf state the largest single sponsor of researchers attempting to understand the underlying causes of aging—and how it might be slowed down with drugs. The foundation hasn’t yet made a formal announcement, but the scope of its effort has been outlined at scientific meetings and is the subject of excited chatter among aging researchers, who hope it will underwrite large human studies of potential anti-aging drugs. The fund is managed by Mehmood Khan, a former Mayo Clinic endocrinologist and the onetime chief scientist at PespsiCo, who was recruited to the CEO job in 2020. ““Our primary goal is to extend the period of healthy lifespan,” Khan said in an interview. “There is not a bigger medical problem on the planet than this one.

The idea, popular among some longevity scientists, is that if you can slow the body’s aging process, you can delay the onset of multiple diseases and extend the healthy years people are able to enjoy as they grow older. Khan says the fund is going to give grants for basic scientific research on what causes aging, just as others have done, but it also plans to go a step further by supporting drug studies, including trials of “treatments that are patent expired or never got commercialized.”

We need to translate that biology to progress towards human clinical research. Ultimately, it won’t make a difference until something appears in the market that actually benefits patients,” Khan says.

Khan says the fund is authorized to spend up to $1 billion per year indefinitely, and will be able to take financial stakes in biotech companies. By comparison, the division of the US National Institute on Aging that supports basic research on the biology of aging spends about $325 million a year.

Hevolution hasn’t announced what projects it will back, but people familiar with the group say it looked at funding a $100 million X Prize for age reversal technology and has reached a preliminary agreement to fund a test of the diabetes drug metformin in several thousand elderly people.

That trial, known as “TAME” (for “Targeting Aging with Metformin”), has been touted as the first major test of any drug to postpone aging in humans, but the study has languished for years without anyone willing to pay for it.