X-Message-Number: 16159
From: "Mark Plus" <>
Subject: "Oracle's Ellison seeking Fountain of Youth"
Date: Mon, 30 Apr 2001 08:48:18 -0700



Posted at 10:58 p.m. PDT Saturday, April 28, 2001

Oracle's Ellison seeking Fountain of Youth
He spends millions on anti-aging quest
Mercury News

Centuries after America's early explorers searched in vain for the fabled 
waters of the Fountain of Youth, the second-richest man in the world has 
joined the hunt.

In hopes of stopping the process of aging, Larry Ellison, the brassy 
55-year-old chief executive of Oracle, is quietly pumping millions of 
dollars into research and other investments. He's now the single largest 
private supporter of research in aging, and he's opening the spigot further.

Ellison's efforts come at a time when interest in age-related research is 
booming, spurred by breakthroughs in science that could soon promise 
billions and perhaps trillions of dollars in profits. Behind that interest 
are the aging baby boomers, the large number of people born in the 
prosperity that came after World War II, who have hit or are nearing their 
golden years. Few embody the preoccupation with age more than Ellison.

``Most people accept early on that they will die,'' said Ellison biographer 
Mark Wilson. ``But part of Larry Ellison is saying if he's smart enough, he 
should be able to beat it. . . . Death is just another kind of corporate 
opponent that he can outfox.''

Ellison and Oracle declined to comment last week. But in a previous speech, 
Ellison said the cost of health care for an aging population ``will 
literally bankrupt the nation,'' and that the boomers, including himself, 
are a ``demographic sword of Damocles'' hanging over the necks of younger 

Scientists generally agree that human life can be extended, but are divided 
about how much. Optimists hope a breakthrough in the next 30 years will 
extend human life to 150 years or more, but conservatives believe life will 
be extended slowly, as a side effect of regenerative drugs.

The investment community is taking note.

Steve Jurvetson, a partner at the venture-capital firm Draper Fisher 
Jurvetson, is scouting out ways to get into the field. He believes that 
within 30 years, people will live 120 to 140 years.

His partner, Tim Draper, has invested privately in a Sunnyvale firm, Layton 
Bioscience, which is refining a process of cell regeneration to cure brain 
damage after a stroke. Layton CEO Gary Snable said the work is directly 
applicable to extending age. This week, Layton is expected to close a $30 
million round of funding.

Generating big money

Big-name venture firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers has invested in 
publicly traded Geron. And Peter Friedli has invested in Osiris 
Therapeutics, which works with adult stem cells.

This month, Friedli joined Oracle to invest in Myriad Genetics, which 
researches the human proteome. It is Oracle's first foray into biotech.

However, researchers say Ellison's money is the most crucial because it 
seeds research at the earliest stages.

``Ellison's money has been extremely important,'' said Thomas Johnson, a 
University of Colorado geneticist who is trying to extend the lifespan of 

Ellison has shown a lifelong fascination with science and age.

Born to an unwed mother in 1944, Ellison was adopted by relatives and raised 
in a middle-class Jewish home in Chicago. A friend's father, a chemical 
researcher, became a role model. Ellison applied for medical school but 
never went.

Ellison later met Nobel laureate Joshua Lederberg. They schmoozed most of 
the night at Ellison's villa in Atherton, talking mostly about biotech, 
Lederberg said. Lederberg then invited Ellison to his lab for a two-week 
``vacation'' handling DNA in strains of bacteria -- ``so he could get his 
hands dirty,'' Lederberg said.

Ellison's adoptive mother died of cancer when he was in college. He said 
later that he didn't tell anyone about it for years.

Later, Robert Miner, co-founder of Oracle, also died of cancer at 52. 
Ellison pretended Miner didn't have cancer or wouldn't have it for long, 
according to those close to him.

``He was getting to an age when he was feeling vulnerable,'' said Lederberg.

Ellison insisted on keeping Miner on the payroll, according to Wilson's 1997 
biography, ``The Difference Between God and Larry Ellison.''

``Dad and Larry were both into living forever, the Fountain of Youth kind of 
stuff,'' said Nicola Miner, his daughter, in the Wilson biography. ``I think 
that my dad's illness really freaked him out. My dad always said that Larry 
had a hard time facing his own mortality.''

When Ellison was told of Miner's death, he reportedly demanded proof.

``It doesn't make any sense to me,'' Ellison later told Wilson. ``Death has 
never made any sense to me. How can a person be there and then just vanish, 
just not be there? Clearly the reason they're not there is they're off doing 
something else. Like Bob was. . . . Death makes me very angry. Premature 
death makes me angrier still.''

Obsession with youth

Every aspect of Ellison's life is youth-oriented, Wilson said, from physical 
fitness and a penchant for carrot juice to a love of cars and women and a 
nose job at an early age.

Some say his obsession with youth has spilled into the workplace. Ellison is 
being sued for age discrimination by Randy Baker, a former Oracle executive. 
Baker, who is 55 -- the same age as Ellison -- contends Ellison made several 
derogatory comments about age and older workers.

Baker was demoted, replaced by a manager who is about 40, and then fired. 
Ellison's attorneys would not comment on the pending case.

Ellison's investments into age research have slowly grown. He funded 
research at the University of California on DHEA, a hormone some believe 
could retard aging. Through his private venture fund, Tako Ventures, he has 
made investments in several other biotech companies.

Centenarians studied

One was Aeiveos -- named after Greek words for ``forever'' and ``young'' -- 
founded by Robert Bradbury, an early employee at Oracle. Aeiveos studied the 
genetic codes of centenarians, those who live to the ripe old age of 100 and 

But soon it became clear that without a basic scientific breakthrough, 
profits were elusive, observers said. Ellison installed his former employee 
to run the company despite little knowledge of the field, some said. 
Bradbury, a Harvard dropout, is an Extropian, a group of believers in the 
idea that genetic engineering will prolong life.

``I find it intriguing,'' said Johnson, the scientist, ``that Larry Ellison 
was bankrolling them, but unlike his astuteness in running computer 
engineering, he ignored people who knew what was going on in the field he 
was funding.''

Ellison has committed $20 million a year to aging research through a newly 
created Ellison Medical Foundation. As of January, the foundation is 
investing $45 million a year, $25 million of which is to fight global 
infectious disease.

Ellison put Lederberg on the board, and recruited another big player: 
Richard Sprott, former director of the Biology of Aging program at the 
National Institute of Aging.

Sprott said Ellison is ``hands-on'' in funding decisions. But some say 
Lederberg and Sprott have reined him in.

`I think Ellison is more interested in the radical stuff,'' says Max More, 
president of the Extropy Institute, who has kept close tabs on funding in 
the field.

The foundation funds scores of academics studying aging, to get them to the 
stage where government or venture-capital funding can take over.

Several of the researchers Ellison has funded are now seeking to turn 
profits. One is Cynthia Kenyon, who extended the lifespan of worms 300 
percent. She has teamed up with an associate of Arch Venture Capital, Cindy 
Bayley, to form a company called Elixir.

Meanwhile, profits or no profits, the world -- and Ellison -- will have to 
be patient.

``Even if the Fountain of Youth is discovered,'' Lederberg said, ``it will 
be 10 years before anyone got any benefit.''

Contact Matt Marshall at  or (408) 920-5920.
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