They say that the investments which sound the most compelling to retail investors will combine the possibility of coming catastrophe with a contrarian element (such as doing something that most people would disagree with you on) with the promise that at some point you’ll be laughing at all those poor fools who lacked the amazing insights that made you a wealthy person. One example are those “sky is falling” gold investment banners that pop up occasionally telling you to invest every penny you have in precious metals. While countless millionaires have been made from boring old dividend growth stocks, people still seem to find “the next Microsoft” and there are plenty of people who will claim to have a stock (usually a penny stock) that does just that.
If we could think of the single most troublesome catastrophe that is inevitable for each and every one of us, that would be that we’re going to die. This is the one thing that each and every one of us worries about, yet it rarely pops up in dinner conversations. As we get older though, we come more aware of our own immortality and we start to “do things right”. We exercise more, we go in for our regular checkups, and perhaps we begin taking supplements as well. We may even find ourselves doing Google searches like “life extension” or “reverse aging”. Here’s how big the “anti aging” market has become:
In researching anti aging, what you will inevitably come across are references to telomeres and anti-aging. And you may come across Liz Parrish and her company BioViva. Who is Liz Parrish and what is BioViva?
In a nutshell, a woman named Elizabeth Parrish or Liz Parrish started a company called BioViva in January of 2015 with $250,000 of private funding. The startup hopes to tackle age related diseases, much like other “life extension” startups like Human Longevity or Google’s Calico. Liz Parrish is not a medical doctor or scientist, and nowhere could we find any information about her having a degree of any kind. This alone is not a showstopper.
Remember United Therapeutics (NASDAQ:UTHR) and Martine Rothblatt? Martine started out with a law degree and no medical experience too – except that Martinne went on to get a Ph. D. in medical ethics. Nonetheless, Liz Parrish is straightforward about her lack of medical background. What she doesn’t lack is what realtors call “curb appeal”. She is charismatic, attractive, well spoken, very intelligent, and her enthusiasm is infectious.
Liz Parrish is exactly the sort of person you want out there creating attention from the media and potential investors, and that’s exactly what she has been doing – a lot. Now this next part is where things get a bit unusual. In September of 2015, Liz Parrish decided to go off to Latin America and have gene therapy performed on herself to reverse the effects of aging. Here’s the whole conversation on Reddit about this. In an article by MIT Technology Review titled “A Tale of Do-it-Yourself Gene Therapy“, the below comments were made about this decision.
The experiment seems likely to be remembered as either a new low in medical quackery or, perhaps, the unlikely start of an era in which people receive genetic modifications not just to treat disease, but to reverse aging. It also raises ethical questions about how quickly such treatments should be tested in people and whether they ought to be developed outside the scrutiny of regulators.
According to an interview with Liz Parrish on Youtube, she claims that this article “lambasted BioViva out of the water” with “very little information” and said that they tried to “discredit the science” which is an interesting reaction to have to an article put out by MIT Technology Review. Perhaps the single most compelling piece of information that establishes legitimacy for Liz Parrish is the fact that George Church himself sits on their advisory board (along with dozens of other companies as well). Here’s what George Church himself had to say about what BioViva is getting up to:
Church said last week he was also trying to learn what exactly had occurred in Latin America. “I think it is real,” he said in an interview. “There were some indications it might happen. Companies in stealth mode can do anything they want.” Church says he didn’t agree with dodging regulators and added that BioViva appears to be “a one-person show.” But he says he found Parrish’s claims plausible. A student in his lab, he says, could prepare a genetic treatment suitable for experiments in animals in a matter of days.
Liz Parrish offers up a telomere test as evidence that the therapy is working. Here’s the results so you can see for yourself. First the before:
And then the “after”:
The thing is though, if you want to lengthen your telomeres, you can go use the TA-65 supplement which has been shown in a published human study to lengthen telomeres for over a period of 12 months. The study in question was conducted with 97 men and women in a controlled environment, not just with one person. Here’s that supplement, and it’s being sold by a company called T.A. Sciences:
There are also a whole slew of other well-funded life extension startups researching this same topic with a great deal more resources to work with. So does BioViva plan to do studies, like everyone else does, to prove the validity of their proposed treatments? Chief Scientist of BioViva, Avi Roy, responded to that question in an interview by saying “BioViva is an engineering and implementation company, and not an R&D facility. We rely on replicable and reliable work being done in research labs all over the world“.
Earlier on in the same interview, when Mr. Roy was pressed about details relating to BioViva’s therapy, he offered up some reference materials seen here and here. When pressed for specifics, he said “this is proprietary information”. Here’s an excerpt from Discover on the actual treatment Liz Parrish is undergoing:
Parrish is receiving two kinds of injections, which are administered outside the United States: a myostatin inhibitor, which is expected to prevent age-associated muscle loss; and a telomerase gene therapy, which is expected to lengthen telomeres, segments of DNA at the ends of chromosomes whose shortening is associated with aging and degenerative disease.
This is a company that hopes to offer the treatment for free (paid for by governments and insurance companies) and criticizes regulations from keeping anti-aging cures out of the hands of people who are aging. Wouldn’t collaboration be the appropriate thing to do here? Wouldn’t that help accelerate research and development which everyone else is stuck with doing since BioViva “isn’t an R&D company”? If everyone else is crippled by regulations, then BioViva should not have any formidable competitive threats. Nonetheless, they have every right to keep details about their treatment in stealth if they so choose to.
It is doubtful that any venture capitalist would touch a company like BioViva which doesn’t abide by the rules that everyone else is asked to abide by in the interest of public safety. Sure, there’s that whole “stick it to the man” appeal about what Liz Parrish is doing, but people who are attracted to this very charming and charismatic individual need to be careful. If you’re thinking about doing the same thing she did, then you should really check yourself. You do not go flying around the world letting people in foreign countries inject you with stuff. That’s a very bad idea. If you’re thinking about funding her startup, then you need to be aware of what you’re getting yourself into. Here’s a page from their pitch deck:
As long as BioViva chooses not to play by the rules, the only option for anyone to get that treatment is by some doctor in a foreign land sticking them with a needle. You go find any medical doctor in the U.S. who thinks that’s a good idea. You won’t. Now think about this as an investor. You are investing in hopes of getting your money back through a future liquidity event (IPO or acquisition). Would such an event ever take place with a company that refuses to play by the rules like everyone else? The possibility of litigation alone would make any potential acquiring firm back away very quickly. It’s not likely BioViva ever sees a liquidity event unless they play by the rules.
If we were BioViva, the ideal investors we would seek out would be older retired gentlemen who are now aware of their mortality more than ever, and who have lots of discretionary money to spend. If you’re someone who fits that profile and you’re thinking about investing in BioViva, you’ve been forewarned.