Saudi’s multi-billion dollar health research funding bid

Part of initiatives to address aging population
Saudi’s multi-billion dollar health research funding bid
Saudi is keen to address its aging population by ramping up anti-aging research efforts

Saudi Arabia’s one-billion-dollar-a-year commitment to aging research has sparked anticipation — and hesitance — among experts.

This substantial financial commitment raises global funding for research in this field. However, there has been skepticism in fund allocation and spending. Currently, funding for anti-aging endeavors mainly comes from the US National Institute on Aging. 

Hevolution Foundation

Last year, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced that the kingdom would be allocating $1 bn yearly to the Hevolution Foundation as part of the Kingdom’s effort to address its aging population. By 2050, the United Nations Fund for Population Activities estimates that the number of aging people in the Kingdom will be over 20 percent of its total population.

Hevolution, whose name combines “health” and “evolution,” was founded as a non-profit organization in 2018 through a royal decree. Its focus is on studying how to increase health span. This refers to the period through which an individual can enjoy a healthy life.

Read: Saudi getting in on anti-aging movement to the tune of $1 bn a year

Causes of hesitation

Since July 2022, Hevolution has already distributed a sum of less than $20 mn. Dr. Mehmood Khan projects that this figure will hit around $1 billion over the next two to four years. Dr. Khan is the organization’s chief executive officer.

This is welcome news for a field of research that gets relatively smaller funding compared to other niches, such as cancer research. Nonetheless, some institutions and researchers have displayed reluctance. 

According to Steven Austad, a researcher on aging at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and senior scientific director at the American Federation for Aging Research (AFAR), “people in the field are kind of holding their breath to see how the money is going to be spent.” AFAR is one of the grant beneficiaries of Hevolution, receiving about $7.76 mn. 

Science outweighs skepticism

Stephanie Lederman, executive director at AFAR, further stated that “in the beginning, people were skeptical.” “But I think a lot of that has kind of gone away because they see that we’re giving out the money. We want to fund this science, it’s really important for the human race,” she said. 

Meanwhile, Martin Borch Jensen, chief scientific officer of San Francisco-based Gordian Biotechnology, enthused that this move by Saudi is “creating a more idealized funding situation.” Norn Group, where he also serves as its president, has received $7 mn from Hevolution.

Upon Norn Group’s announcement of receiving Hevolution funding, Jensen acknowledged that their “focus is on achieving that mission and improving human health and flourishing, which we’re committed to whatever the state of public opinion.”

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