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Given billionaires running their own space programs it makes me wonder why there aren't more billionaires running biologic research companies. Between life extension and immunity to (or protection from) really pathological conditions it seems like their interests would be aligned with folks like this.

Other than D.E. Shaw Research, I can't think of any where the namesake is actually doing lab work.

There are plenty of foundations and the like though. The Schwartz Foundation funds a lot of neuroscience (particularly computational), but through grants to universities and researchers; Jerry Schwartz isn't really spending any time at the bench.

For basic research, this might make more sense. We know that, in principle, rockets can be built. Improving them isn't easy, but with enough time/money/effort, it can be done. For things like life extension, we don't know if it can be done, nor do we know the things we'd need to know to decide that (recuse as needed here). It'd be better to fund a broad portfolio of ideas than focus on your own enterprise.

It's also possible for these engineering-based companies to make money en route to their goal. Mars would be awesome, but there's money to be made in geosync or even low earth orbit too, which helps keep the business going. In contrast, there's no market for 1/3 of a possible antibiotic.

> Other than D.E. Shaw

That guy is hella badass. Shunned by your academic department? Fuck it, go make billions and use that money to fund the development of custom hardware to run high powered geometric integrators on biological systems.

>Given billionaires running their own space programs it makes me wonder why there aren't more billionaires running biologic research companies.

I really think the whole "It's not Rocket Science" cliche would be better suited as "It's not Biology".

Not just billionaires.

One of my besties is directly funding early stage Lyme Disease research. Directly to the lab and researchers. Bypassing orgs, foundations, panels, etc.

He has a vested interest in accelerating the process and has already benefitted from their findings.

This direct funding model will become a significant strategy, as it becomes ever easier to find and connect interested parties.

I'm glad your friend is able to do that. It makes sense to directly fund the research when you directly benefit from their findings. I'm curious about the direct funding process. Does the lab approach him saying "we need money for this equipment"? Or is it like an ongoing regular donations sort of thing?

My friend found the researches himself, built relationships. He's done both one-time donations and ongoing commitments. Pretty much whatever he can help with.

You might be interested in a New Yorker article about just that.


> billionaires running biologic research companies

D. E. Shaw Research is exactly this. Haven't heard of others, though.

I still remember the surprise I felt when I idly Googled the author of some computational chemistry paper, only to find he was a billionaire :-)

Take a look at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, which uses a well-known billionaire's money for funding basic research in biology and neuroscience.

You mean the tax dodge that only started doing research when the government started investigating?

Owner of JetBrains is running his own biotech company focused on improving human health. Not a billionaire yet though.

This is happening. Sergey Brin reportedly invested over $1B in Calico (biotech / life extension).

An engineering investment is way, way lower variance than bio research investment.

I almost wonder if running your own space program is cheaper. As in the amount of regulatory BS you have to go through due to the monopolistic behavior of the large pharmaceutical companies...

And yet, if you're not really planning on selling the techniques you find on the open market could you save yourself a lot of time by ignoring the FDA?

You can spend hundreds of millions of dollars before you even get to the point where you can ask the FDA if you can start human trials. Even having spent all that time and money, you still won't have any guarantee that your drug will prove to be safe, effective, or better than any existing drugs.

> You can spend hundreds of millions of dollars before you even get to the point where you can ask the FDA if you can start human trials.

What's a rough breakdown of costs? Salaries certainly don't seem to be the dominant factor. Is it lab equipment & facilities?

I'm not a chemist, but here's how I understand it to work.

It's all trial and error. You start with some model about how your target disease works. Perhaps, for the sake of argument, your model is that disease Q is caused by a deficit of protein N. Protein N is broken down by enzyme F, so obviously if you found a drug that suppressed enzyme F, you could cure disease Q. Now all you have to do is try every chemical you know how to make to see if it reacts with enzyme F.

Of course, you have to be a little more picky than that. Elemental Flourine would probably react with the enzyme, but might react with other important parts of the patient's anatomy as well; probably there would be side effects. So you screen millions of compounds against your enzyme, and against thousands of other molecules commonly found in the human body that you _don't_ want it to interact with, looking for the one that interacts with as few of them as possible. These days this part is somewhat automated. Machines can squirt thousands of chemicals into thousands of test cells every second, and automatically check them for chemical reactions. There are apparently whole companies that do nothing but this, on a contract basis. They maintain a library of compounds to test against, you ship them a big bottle of your enzyme F in solution, and they run all the tests for you. That takes a big logistical problem off your plate, which is nice. Since this is all they do, they can really specialize and increase their efficiency.

Now you've spent a couple of years on the project and identified a few dozen likely candidates. The next step is to optimize them to improve their effect. You're basically trying to guess what part of the molecule is most important (hopefully backing that guess up with some data), then changing the less important looking parts of the molecule to see what happens. Think of all the different combinations of side groups you could add to it, or remove from it, or swap out with other groups, etc, and try them all. Lots of synthesizing small batches of chemicals nobody else has ever synthesized before, determining their structures to make sure you synthesized what you set out to synthesize, lots of assays to see what kind of reactions they get up to, lots of failures.

After a few years of that and you might have something you can start testing in a real biological system. For this step you use cell cultures, rather than going immediately to the full complexity of an animal model. Your drug isn't much good if the liver immediately thinks it's a poison and dismantles it, or if it kills the cultured liver cells, etc.

If none of that goes wrong, then maybe you do tests in an animal model (provided you can find some animals that are susceptible to disease Q, or something close enough), and then later do human testing. Hopefully your disease model was correct; not all of them are. Look at all the alzheimers drugs that have failed, for instance. It seems that none of our hypotheses for how alzheimers works are correct.

Also, don't forget that at some point you also have to work out how to synthesize your drug efficiently, safely, inexpensively, and in large batches.

Labs are presumably a big part of the costs, but a lot of the cost of a lab is the people, not just the equipment.

I think changing the way the FDA works is a hopeless cause, because the real costs are at the beginning of the process. Fund basic research instead, so that we can find new types of chemicals to build, new ways of building them, new natural products, etc. Maybe someone will even crack the simulation problem (the problem is that accurate chemical simulations take months and years to run, and simulations that are faster than physical tests are inaccurate).

Thanks, that's great.

You know there are many other countries where the FDA doesn't apply?

Perhaps I should be more clear. You can certainly avoid dealing with the FDA if you like, but it won't actually save much time or money. You'll still spend hundreds of millions of dollars on the basic research needed to find something that might be a useful drug. All of that spending comes before you do any kind of human testing.

Also, doing your research in other countries carries its own risk. Here's a recent article about human trials conducted in North America, South America, and Russia: <http://blogs.sciencemag.org/pipeline/archives/2017/04/27/a-c.... I'm pretty sure I saw something about fraudulent pre-clinical research in China a few months back as well.

There's a metric ton of other regulations, at least in the US, mandating how any human level research is done. Depending on what one is doing, it's not necessarily less annoying

That wouldn't slow down a self-respecting multi-billionaire, though, would it? Couldn't you just set up your lab in Malaysia / Brazil / Belarus? You don't even need a country without regulations against your research direction, just one that doesn't (consistently) enforce any such laws...

Or just create your own country. Failing that, there's always international waters. Bonus points if the lab is underwater.

Edit: Hah! http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2568744/Float...

ANVISA (Brazilian equivalent of the FDA) has more regulations than FDA for most subjects.

Human Longevity INC San Diego, run by Craig Venter. http://www.humanlongevity.com/about/management-team/

Both Google and Apple have biomedical venture efforts. Google founders are 40 and feel mortal.

I bet Putin at age 64 with his 200 billion dollars has a spare body growing in a vat somewhere.

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