Altos Labs has reportedly already received backing from Jeff Bezos, who recently stepped back as chief executive of Amazon

Credit: Mandel Ngan/AFP

A secretive start-up that hopes to extend human lifespans and is rumoured to be backed by Jeff Bezos is setting up a research lab in Cambridge.

Altos Labs has picked the university city as one of several research hubs, according to the MIT Technology Review, which said the start-up had embarked on a major drive to bring academics on board. It is reportedly offering specialists salaries of around $1m (£720,000) a year.

Altos Labs set up a UK arm of the business in June, Companies House filings show.

The start-up is also expected to establish research centres in Japan and San Francisco, as part of a push to develop technology that can essentially revitalise animals, using it to rejuvenate cells and ultimately prolong life.

Academics who join the company are expected to be looking into how cells age and what could be done to reverse that process so that tissues become younger.

It is an area of science which has attracted many of the richest tech entrepreneurs in the past, including Google co-founder Larry Page who helped to create Calico, a business with the aim of achieving immortality, and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, who funded a San Francisco firm called Unity Biotechnology.

According to the MIT Technology Review, Altos Labs has already received backing from early Facebook investor Yuri Milner and Jeff Bezos, who recently stepped back as chief executive of Amazon. His office did not respond to the magazine’s requests for comment.

Mr Milner, a Russian-Israeli billionaire who has made investments in Facebok and Twitter, confirmed his investment via a spokesman.

Mr Bezos also invested in Unity Biotechnology, which aims to “extend human healthspan, the period in one’s life unburdened by the disease of ageing”.  

MIT Technology Review said Altos Labs had raised at least $270m from investors since it was formed late last year, in a sign of the significant appetite there is in the market for such businesses.

Global health – Life expectancy at birth

The global anti-ageing market is expected to surpass more than $271bn by 2024, according to forecasts from CB Insights.

Altos Labs is said to have embarked on the major push to find top academics in the field, even as it already has some of the leading figures in its ranks. 

Both Spanish biologist Juan Carlos Izpisúa Belmonte, who has forecast that humans could live for around 50 years longer, and Shinya Yamanaka, a scientist whose work around reprogramming cells to reverse ageing has been termed an “elixir of life”, have reportedly joined the business.

Companies House filings suggest Richard Klausner, the former director of the US-based National Cancer Institute, is acting as chief executive of Altos Labs.

Cambridge is home to some of the top research on stem cells, which are used to maintain and repair tissues. The University of Cambridge, the Wellcome Trust and the Medical Research Council together fund the world-leading MRC Cambridge Stem Cell Institute.

The drive by Altos Labs to target British academics comes amid a wider trend for US tech firms to seek to tap university talent. 

Artificial intelligence has been a major area where American firms have sought to recruit the UK’s top brains. By 2018, around a third of leading machine learning and artificial intelligence specialists had left the UK’s top institutions to take up roles at Silicon Valley tech firms.