Hedge fund prize offers $1 million to cure…aging?

Jacob Wackerhausen | Getty Images

Jacob Wackerhausen | Getty Images

A hedge fund manager is the latest to embark on one of the most ancient of human quests: immortality.

Joon Yun, president of $1 billion health care-focused Palo Alto Investors, announced a new prize last week that will award $1 million to researchers who can “hack the code of life and cure aging.”

“The current health care system is doing a remarkable job addressing the diseases of aging,” Yun, also a trained doctor, said in a statement. “However, doing so without solving the underlying process of aging produces escalating effects on health care spending. We need a paradigmatic revolution. The aim of the prize is to catalyze that revolution.”

Yun, 46, doesn’t lack pedigree. He’s board-certified in radiology and served on the clinical staff at Stanford Hospital from 2000 to 2006. Yun received his bachelor of arts in biology from Harvard University and his doctorate from Duke University School of Medicine.

The $1 million “Palo Alto Longevity Prize” will be split in two, but teams can try for both. One $500,000 award will go to the first team to show, using a mammal for testing, that it can restore a youthful heart rate to an aging adult. The second $500,000 pot will be awarded to the first group that can extend lifespan by 50 percent.

Eleven teams have already signed up to compete and more can apply. They include researchers from Stanford, George Washington University and Washington University in St. Louis who will experiment with gene modification and the hormone oxytocin.

“Now is the time to launch this prize because we have reached the point in science where we really do have the opportunity to solve aging,” Dr. Doris Taylor, director of the regenerative medicine research at Texas Heart Institute, said in a statement. Taylor is a leader of an initial team competing for the prize using a stem cell approach.

Prize organizers are also working with private investors and foundations to provide access to additional money to the teams. The effort’s advisory board includes Eric Weinstein of Thiel Capital, Graham Spencer of Google Ventures and Steve Jurvetson of Draper Fisher Jurvetson.

Yun’s Palo Alto Investors holds stakes in companies such as Intermune,United Therapeutics and Cyberonics, according to public filings as of June 30. The firm was founded by William Edwards in 1989. He stepped down at the end of 2012.

Yun and Patrick Lee, who already led portfolio management, replaced Edwards as co-managers in January 2013.

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