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Saudi Arabia to invest $1bn a year in anti-ageing research

Laboratory in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on 14 December 2014 [FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images]
Laboratory in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on 14 December 2014 [FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP/Getty Images]

The Saudi royal family has launched a non-profit organisation called the Hevolution Foundation, which plans to invest $1 billion annually in funding anti-ageing research and the biology of extending human lifespan.

According to a report last week by MIT Technology Review, if it goes ahead, the initiative will make the kingdom "the largest single sponsor of researchers attempting to understand the underlying causes of ageing – and how it might be slowed down with drugs". It's annual budget far exceeds that of the US National Institute on Aging, which funds similar research with about $325 million a year.

The foundation's name is based on the combined words "Health" and "Evolution". It has yet to make a formal announcement, but is believed to be initiated at the behest of Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. It has been speculated by one anti-ageing news and discussion forum that Hevolution could be the source of a $1 billion investment in the new Longevity Science Foundation based in Switzerland.

READ: Biden to meet with Saudi Crown Prince during Middle East trip

The foundation's CEO, Mehmood Khan, a former Mayo Clinic endocrinologist and onetime chief scientist at PespsiCo, was quoted by MIT Technology Review as saying, "Our primary goal is to extend the period of healthy lifespan," adding that "There is not a bigger medical problem on the planet than this one."

"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 said.

The report stated that the reason for the project may be partially linked to evidence suggesting that people living in the Gulf states "are aging faster biologically than they are chronologically," according to materials prepared by Hevolution and viewed by MIT Technology Review.

Despite the kingdom's relatively young population, with a median age of around 31, it is experiencing increasing rates of obesity and diabetes brought on by rich diets and too little exercise. According to a 2019 study in the Saudi Medical Journal, Saudi public health officials said the country's prosperity had led to an "urgent need to establish prevention and control programs."

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