by Patrick Cox
August 15, 2018
For years, I’ve predicted that Japan would be the first nation to wake up to the seriousness of continually increasing lifespans. The unexpected success of the book, The 100-Year Life—Living and Working in an Age of Longevity, in Japan indicates to me that a tipping point has finally been reached.
And its impact will be felt all over the world.
The 100-Year Life was first published in English in 2016. Like my book, The Methuselah Effect, it deals with some of the consequences of an aging society. Also like my book, it didn’t attract a lot of attention.
That changed, however, when the translated version was published in Japan as LifeShift. The Japanese quickly embraced the central message of the book: that individuals, businesses, institutions, and government desperately needed to adapt to the reality of 100-year lifespans.
According to Leo Lewis of the Financial Times, the book transformed public debate and crystallized what had been a murky discussion of demography-themed hopes and fears.
I’ve written in the past about the transformation longer lifespans and low birthrates are causing in Japan. We see abandoned rural towns and urban properties. Prisons convert to assisted-living facilities as the aged commit nonviolent crimes for the sole purpose of being incarcerated. As dementia rates increase with population age, authorities have proposed implanting RFID chips in the toenails of older people who wander around unable to remember their own addresses.
Polls from 2014 showed that almost 90% of Japanese consider aging a problem, compared to only about a quarter of Americans. The need to increase the fertility rate has become standard joke material in the Japanese media.
Most important, the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare deregulated the drug approval process for regenerative medicine, specifically to improve health and healthcare costs for older people. It seems that the Japanese people are not oblivious to the problems of aging, though until recently, the topic was limited mostly to policy makers.
Now aging and methods for dealing with age are mainstream public conversations. The Japanese cultural and psychological revolution I’ve been predicting is happening now. Most significantly, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has absorbed and integrated the lessons into his economic program, and politicians all over Japan have begun to talk about the need to adapt to longer lives.
Unfortunately, they haven’t made a complete transition.
Get Ready for 200-Year Lifespans
The Japanese have recognized the continual increase in lifespans that began in the 1800s, but they haven’t yet realized that the rate of increase is exponential. We’re on the verge of solving the issues that have kept maximum lifespans at about 120 years, meaning the end of senescence as we know it today.
Preparing for 100-year lifespans is not enough.
As financial analysts absorb the reality of 100-year lives, many recommend that people work into their 80s if they want a secure future through age 100. The big question, which almost nobody is addressing, is how long you’ll have to work if lifespans are 150, 200, or more years.
Is that crazy talk?
In the last few weeks, there have been major developments in biogerontology. Some of them, I’m even allowed to talk about.
For example, two of the most important people in the field of anti-aging medicine struck a deal that could reshape history. Let’s start with scientist Michael West, sometimes called the father of regenerative medicine. In his career, he’s made the essential discoveries that led to senolytics, telomerase therapy, and pluripotent stem cell therapies.
Now he has founded a new company, AgeX, specifically to reverse aging. Digest that information if you can. He intends to do it by activating the embryonic gene pathways associated with cellular immortality and healing.
The second person is Jim Mellon, the self-made British billionaire and biotech investor. Mellon had already put about $5 million into West’s age-reversal company, but his investment company, Juvenescence Limited, just bought another $43 million from AgeX’s parent company BioTime.
Mellon has assembled a team of superstar scientists and executives for his company Juvenescence that I wager will outperform anything Silicon Valley has put together. Here is a short video of Mellon talking about the science of aging.
The fact that he has put so much faith and money in West’s science after extensive due diligence makes me confident that my own analysis is correct.
The timing is also perfect. Japan’s overhauled regulatory system could bring regenerative medicine to its population in a single year, compared to the decade or so it can take in the US and Europe.
I’ve been lobbying West and Mellon to take some breakthrough therapy through the Japanese regulatory system. Japan not only has the oldest demographic in the world, its population is educated, hardworking, and economically and technologically advanced. And now the Japanese public has woken up to its own emergency.
This is great news for the US, Europe, and the rest of the world, which is headed in the same demographic direction as Japan.