Professor David J. Demko, PhD, gerontologist and editor
AgeVenture News Service
"It's MY ball, you have to let ME play, too?" That old school yard logic still works. Who ever owns the ball, gets to play. But ownership is often a contested issue. These days, the ownship of anti-aging medicine is being contested by academics and entrepreneurs. Anti-aging medicine refers to products and services designed to slow or stop the process of human aging. By "ownership", I'm referring to who controls the anti-aging agenda such as research priorities, product standards, marketing strategy, and so on.
Academics, in some quarters of anti-aging medicine are staking their claim on the basis of research credentials. Entrepreneurs, on the other hand, are already blazing a trail of profitabity in the mature market, offering a variety of anti-aging products and services. Which group, academics or entrepreneurs are destined to win the coveted role that many Americans are starting to call "masters of anti-aging medicine"?
Well, money is a good way to keep score in this type of competition. Money as in funding for research, lucrative salaries for attracting top talent, money for public information campaigns, and so on. If dollars are used to keep score, then the entrepreneurs are winning hands-down. Dollar-wise, they OWN anti-aging medicine. Not everyone is happy with the news.
Gerontrepreneurs were the first to pick up the anti-aging ball in response to public demand. A demand that's growing in the billions of dollars annually. Academics are only now awakening to the needs, opportunities, and benefits of anti-aging medicine. Like it or not, if entrepreneurs had not first responded to this growing market, academics might still be slumbering "a la Rip Van Wrinkle" in their cozy Ivory Tower bunks. Now that anti-aging has gone mainstream, everyone wants to get involved. Some groups seek more than involvement, they want to run the whole show.
What one group is equipped to "own" the anti-aging agenda? More importantly, should competition for ownership be a win-lose proposition? Think about it. One solitary voice setting priorities, making value judgements, and determining market strategy? Such an "Anti-aging Monopoly", whether free-market or academic, would not fuel the drive for innovation.
Anti-aging is about meeting consumer needs through research, product creation, and marketing know-how. Neither group, the academics or the entrepreneurs, possess all the requisite competencies for taking the helm of the "anti-aging agenda". There's a win-win opportunity here. Can't both sides learn to play together? Each bringing their respective strengths toward the advancement of anti-aging medicine? Of course.
Anti-aging medicine is important to the public, policy-makers, and society in general. There is nothing to gain by any one group self-appointing itself to the role of Anti-aging Police. There is, however, much to gain by an orchestrated effort consisting of sound scholarship and market savvy. Academics and Entrepreneurs do not think alike, nor do they often have the same priorities. But that is a strength, not a weakness.
The era of the Gerontrepreneur, the combination of gerontological scholarship and mature market savvy. Let's welcome this new era in the spirit of social progress. Ben Franklin was right. "A house divided against itself cannot stand."
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