Healthy Ageing Q2 2020 editorial by James Mawson, editor in chief, Global Corporate Venturing

When famed Silicon Valley venture capitalist Peter Thiel funded the Methuselah Mouse Prize it was a way of supporting anti-ageing research under the aegis of controversial gerontologist Aubrey de Grey.

The ultimate goal for some in the Valley and beyond is the ‘longevity escape velocity’ – for each year you live life expectancy increases by more than a year.

Given the latest pandemic concerns, this might seem over-ambitious but the improvements in life expectancy over the past century and unprecedented wealth among entrepreneurs has encouraged an approach to whether death should be one of the certainties – alongside taxes – in life.

The incremental improvements in life expectancy in the past few decades have, however, stalled for at least some demographics and people’s attention is focused on what can be done as well as an overall improvement in the quality of life as people age.

Sir William Beveridge’s focus more than 75 years ago were on the five giants of want, disease, ignorance, squalor and idleness.

Now, as Kaloyan Andonov writes in this supplement’s main feature, the Centre for Ageing Better charity has seven themes to stimulate innovation in a pursuit of longer and healthier lives for all:

  • Sustaining physical activity
  • Maintaining health at work
  • Design for age-friendly homes
  • Creating healthy, active places
  • Supporting social connections
  • Living well with cognitive impairment
  • Managing common complaints of ageing.

And whereas Beveridge wanted government to pick up the bill to remove the burden on corporations and individuals, attention is increasingly from the state on how to tap the sort of Valley mindsets and entrepreneurialism through open innovation.

The goal has remained broadly similar since Clement Attlee enacted effectively all Beveridge’s reforms: an increase in the competitiveness of British industry while producing healthier, wealthier, more motivated and more productive workers keen to buy British goods.

But private finance has substantially underfunded certain areas related to healthy ageing. Diabetes and Alzheimer’s see substantial investment. Nursing robots less so.

This is where the government is keen to step in. Crowding in corporate and other financial investing leverages the government’s use of challenges, grants and other financial tools. The government wants to prime the pump. The NHS is potentially a large customer for those meeting the healthy ageing goals.