I wrote here about the first company that the big VC firm Andreessen Horowitz has launched in the biopharma space, Nootrobox. They’re selling nutraceuticals to make you “smarter” and “faster” – so how are things going over there? The San Jose Mercury News has an update (forgot to add the link, sorry!), in the context of an article on “biohacking”:
Employees at San Francisco startup Nootrobox don’t eat on Tuesdays.The weekly fast isn’t an extreme money-saving move by a scrappy, bootstrapping company. Instead, Nootrobox team members swear withholding food for 36 hours — they stop eating Monday night — improves their workplace focus and concentration.“We’re actually super productive on Tuesdays,” co-founder and CEO Geoffrey Woo said. “It’s hard at first, but we literally adopted it as part of the company culture.”
Dr. Vinh Ngo of Smart Med in San Francisco specializes in nootropics and works with patients from Facebook, Google, Uber, and other tech startups. Ngo says his treatments — including amino acids, nutritional IV drips, prescription drugs and testosterone therapy for men — are intended to help clients become better versions of themselves.
“Instead of preventing illness, we’re actually optimizing health,” Ngo said.
George Burke, who runs a San Francisco nootropics and biohacking meet-up group called Peak Performance, says he takes one-tenth of a hit of LSD every few days to treat his diagnosed ADD. It helps him visualize creative solutions to work-related problems, he said.
“Until it becomes legal, then I certainly have to be careful,” Burke said. “However, I’m working in an industry and a culture where many professionals understand how to get ahead, how to supplement, and how to optimize their performance.”
Ah, the professionals understand how to do these things, do they? Excellent. One thing’s for sure: there are plenty of people who do know how to market to all the professionals who are so sure that they know how to optimize their performance. And it’s in their best interest – the sellers – that people take enough pills to be walking piñatas. “Nutritional IV drips” surely don’t come cheap, either, although you do wonder what kinds of nutrients these are that don’t get absorbed from an oral dose.
There’s a credulity problem here. I’m sure that many of the people doing this stuff think of themselves as very good scientists and engineers or clear-headed business dealers, but if you believe that (a) we know enough to “hack the brain” and (b) that these pills and shots you’re taking are the way to do it, then you have a problem with weighing evidence and probabilities that might possibly extend to the other ways you do your work. I would be worried, for example, if I heard that before sending in an NDA that people at Genentech took care to ritually pour a vial of restriction enzyme over the outstretched foot of Herb Boyer’s statue. But that has about as much chance of working as some of these biohacking ideas do.
The history of biohacking is a actually long one, as a glance at one of those reprint Sears catalogs from the 1890s will make clear. I doubt if the Silicon Valley folks would care to trace the lineage back through the early 1900s food faddists and decades of raving quacks, but I’m apparently too unoptimized to see much of a difference. For my part, I’m going to try to come up with an especially good lunch for Tuesday in honor of the Nootrobox folks, which will doubtless give me all the amino acids I need.
Update: Nootrobox CEO Geoffrey Woo (on Twitter) mentions this page on the company’s site as something to check for more details, and says that they’ll be registering a clinical trial for one of their products soon.