Updating economic growth models to consider advances in biomedicine: BGRF publishes original research

14 November, 2013 – London, UK – The Biogerontology Research Foundation (BGRF), a UK-based charity committed to the support of aging research to address the challenges of a rapidly aging population and to reduce the impact of disease on future generations, announces the publication of a study which adapts existing, accepted models of economic growth to include the influence the last half-century of rapid biological progress is expected to have on life expectancy in the developed world.

Commenting on the announcement, BGRF Director, Alex Zhavoronkov PhD, said: “John Maynard Keynes once said that ‘in the long run, we’re all dead’. Our model looks at a scenario in which some of us are alive in the long run. It also suggests that to grow the economy we need to make proactive policy changes and accelerate aging research as well as the propagation of biomedical advances from the laboratory into clinical practice.”

Steve Coles, Lecturer in Gerontology, UCLA Molecular Biology Institute, added: “Although this is a mathematically heavy-duty paper, its conclusions are far reaching. The traditional age 65 is not “written in stone,” as we have been led to assume over the course of many decades simply because it was convenient when it was first created in Germany more than 100 years ago when life expectancy was only 5 years at age 65 and not 15 years as it is today in the USA.

Understanding ageing and its implications for retirement ages will come sooner or later, even if we do nothing; but what if we were to accelerate our progress into longevity research and cause interventions to happen sooner rather than later? If more people were to live longer past the age of retirement, what would that mean for the working population which sustains them? When would-social security and medicare trust funds be exhausted if we did nothing? This sort of computer modelling is urgently needed if our legislators are to make intelligent decisions for the future of our children and our grandchildren.”

Steven Burrill, CEO of Burrill & Co., said about the research: “People are living longer, healthier lives, and this longevity boom is not going to stop any time soon. If we’re to get to grips with the implications this will have for national economies, pension funds and society at large, we urgently need economic analysis of this trend. This paper is an insightful step in the right direction.”

The paper, published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, supports the notion that economists making long-term forecasts need to consider not only historical data but the effect of current and future biomedical research on life expectancy. In the paper, authors Alex Zhavoronkov and Maria Litovchenko propose a new measure of development: the biomedical progress rate, itself a function of the rejuvenation rate and the non-rejuvenating rate – referring to the rate at which healthy lifespans are extended and the rate of lifespan extension in old age, respectively

The message for policy makers is clear: research funding must be focused on projects aimed at increasing productive lifespan, rather than “last mile” therapies aimed at keeping elderly patients alive longer. Such research, and the biomedical developments that result from it, ought to be fast-tracked through regulatory and approval processes. And as has been happening more and more in recent years, the retirement age must be adjusted proactively to exceed the life expectancy estimates that purely historical trends would suggest.