Meet Altos Labs, Silicon Valley’s latest wild bet on living

Other hires made by Altos include Peter Walter, whose laboratory at the University of California, San Francisco, is behind a molecule that shows remarkable effects on memory. Also joining is Wolf Reik, a reprogramming specialist who recently resigned as the director of the Babraham Institute in the UK after the center said he was taking a job “with another research organization” now believed to be Altos. Walter and Reik declined to comment.

At least initially, Altos will be funding researchers with no immediate expectation for products or revenues. According to one person briefed by Klausner and Milner, the initial output of the company will be “great science.”

Altos is luring university professors by offering sports-star salaries of $1 million a year or more, plus equity, as well as freedom from the hassle of applying for grants. One researcher who confirmed accepting a job offer from Altos, Manuel Serrano of the Institute for Research in Biomedicine, in Barcelona, Spain, said the company would pay him five to 10 times what he earns now.

“The philosophy of Altos Labs is to do curiosity-driven research. This is what I know how to do and love to do,” says Serrano, who plans to move to Cambridge, UK to join an Altos facility there. “In this case, through a private company, we have the freedom to be bold and explore. In this way it will rejuvenate me.”

Any treatment for a major disease of aging could be worth billions, but Altos isn’t counting on making money at first. “The aim is to understand rejuvenation,” says Serrano. “I would say the idea of having revenue in the future is there, but it’s not the immediate goal.”

In 2013, Serrano was among the first scientists to genetically engineer mice to produce Yamanaka factors. They all developed tumors as their cells reverted to an embryonic stage. Still, the work hinted that time could be reversed inside a living animal. “You introduce the factors and they do the magic. It’s very simple experimentally, even if it is not understood,” says Serrano.