To that end, Mellon has set up and is chairman of Juvenescence, a “people-light, asset-rich” company that has just raised $US100 million ($148 million) at a $US500 million valuation to invest in longevity assets.
The private company, co-founded alongside Dr Greg Bailey and Dr Declan Doogan, has already taken a dozen stakes in businesses promising to extend life. Some are focused on drug discovery using artificial intelligence, such as Insilico Medicine of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Another, Lygenesis, of Pittsburgh, is researching growing livers in a lab. A third is working on researching so-called “senescent” or “zombie” cells, which are responsible for some of the effects of ageing. Investing in such companies is high risk. Life science investments are “a bit like mining”, according to Mellon: “lots of capital expenditure and potentially years of work”. The prize, he says, is worth it.
He’s not proposing immortality – at least not yet. “We would die of boredom if we lived to say 1,200,” he laughs, “but if we routinely lived to 110 or 120, then the trajectory of life – we are born, we learn, we earn, we retire, we inspire – changes. It’s like waking up in the morning and having 36 hours ahead, not 24. I think it’s a high probability outcome in 20 to 30 years.”
Starting out as a fund manager in Hong Kong, Mellon made his first million at 28. He founded investment company Regent Pacific in the early Nineties, after heading to Russia to take advantage of the privatisation boom.
He’s also a prominent Brexit backer, donating to a predecessor of Leave.EU founder Arron Banks, whose work on the campaign has not been without scrutiny and remains a major shareholder in Mellon’s Isle of Man-based Manx Financial.
Banks faced questions from MPs over links to Russian businessmen, while the Leave.EU was investigated over its donations. A criminal probe into Banks was ultimately dropped, citing “no evidence”.
While some may know him better for his politics, others for his active deal making, it’s life sciences that gets Mellon excited. Cynics argue research into extending human life is nothing more than wishful thinking by ageing millionaires. However, Mellon claims there could be a “money fountain” if one of his longevity investments pays off. Several other funds, such as those managed by Neil Woodford, have invested in drug discovery and biotech only to become unstuck by years-long waits for returns. “But believe you me, the billions are coming in, much like billions poured into the tech industry in the Nineties,” Mellon says.
Juvenescence already has backing from tycoon Michael Spencer and fund manager Sergey Young. And it isn’t the only one hunting for eternal youth. Disrupting death has become a Silicon Valley dream. Google founder Sergey Brin and Oracle founder Larry Ellison have invested billions. But Mellon argues such investments need to have short-term goals, and not just be moon shot ventures. Yet life is not the only outlandish investment strategy being pursued by Mellon. He has also jumped on the “alternative meat” trend, popularised by the float of Wall Street darling Beyond Meat.
A new firm, Agronomics of which Mellon is a leading shareholder, is chaired by Innocent Drinks co-founder Richard Reed and listed on AIM.
It has so far made investments in a US-based “alternative fish” start-up BlueNalu, a lab-grown sausage maker and non-meat petfood maker. Mellon says it’s “much more interested in the biotech than in the plant-based food” of firms like Beyond Meat.
But this is another sector, while full of promise, that is at risk of hype and bubblelike valuations. Mellon is bullish on the prospects of life sciences in the UK, regardless of Brexit. He says “these two sectors” in biotechnology are going to be “an enormous theme for the UK… whatever the status of the country is”.
If such life sciences investments through ventures like Juvenescence start to pay off, an industry of life-elongation could be around the corner.
What can people do to reap the benefits? “Stay alive for the next 10 years,” Mellon says.