2019 Will Be the Year of Biotechnology

One of the hottest innovative segments in the coming years may surpass even that of digital services

2019 Will Be the Year of Biotechnology
Автор: Aleksandar Aleksandrov

After several decades of rapid development of information technologies, today, we have the feeling that they run our lives. Platforms such as Google, Facebook, Skype, and YouTube have changed everything around us, they have captured our smart phones and are about to take over our cars and homes.

Many believe, however, that in the coming years another industry will start to play a central role in our society, resulting in changes that even giants in the digital segment are unable to make. This is biotechnology – a sector that is also developing exponentially today, and a number of trends show that in 2019, we can expect a real boom in the area. In the following lines, we will introduce you to some of the most interesting trends in this field that we are about to observe this new year.

Genome Editing

The CRISPR-CAS9 genome engineering technology is undoubtedly an innovation of huge importance to the industry, and today, we are witnessing an unprecedented democratisation of this activity to the point where practically everyone can practise it in almost home conditions. Several people have already voluntarily undergone genome therapy at home – with the purpose of treating an illness or even simply promoting the technology. Some scientists are already worried that an explosion of attempts to genetically alter the bodies of living people in real-time and outside of hospitals is ahead of us.

Garage Experiments

One of the main problems in conducting home-based studies is related to a serious regulation of working with living organisms. Sometimes it includes pathogens that can create epidemics and even pandemics.

That is why perhaps the most significant trend in the field is the introduction of low-cost platforms for the conducting of digital genetic experiments without living cells. Equipment, such as Cell-Free Tech or Bento labs, is now extremely accessible and can even be purchased at the Kickstarter shared funding. This makes it possible to carry out complex biotech experiments in the backyard, without being accountable to any regulator, because, practically, nothing living is being manipulated and created. Expectations are that, in the near future, this will lead to a boom in new technologies, methods and products that could then be reproduced under real conditions. We cannot but compare it to the garage development of computer technology in the 1970s that led to the shaping of the technology industry as we know it today.

Hacking the Body

NuLeaf Tech is a promising biotech startup that has created a genome hacking kit for home use. For now, it works only with bacteria, but the company plans to expand the objects. What is indicative in this respect is that its founder is already experimenting with editing one’s own genes. Another company, Ascension Biomedical, has begun experimental genome therapy on a young man with HIV. The expectations are that in the near future such examples will become more and more, and in the long run, editing genes will be done not only for treatment but also for improvement and changes in the human body.

Startup Boom

Over the past year, there has been a significant increase in risky investments in startups from the biotech segment. Together with the medical ones, they have attracted a total of over USD 26 billion in 2018 only. Allocating such a significant amount of financial resources means that in the coming months, we can expect interesting things from many newly-founded companies in the industry.

The Rise of China

The Asian country has decided to play a leading role in the biotech industry and it seems that it will continue to invest heavily in its most promising sub-segments. At the very end of last year, we already saw the birth of the first children with an edited genome – a project, carried out by Chinese scientists, with the expectations being that the “All under Heaven Empire” would soon surprise us with new breakthroughs in the area. Only in the last three years, the total investments in the so-called life sciences in the country have risen by 97%, reaching USD 39.8 billion, and China is about to turn from an economy that copes into a large-scale biotech ecosystem that innovates and develops new technologies.

IT Companies Take over the Industry

Technological giants are already entering health care and want to take over not only our medical data but also our bodies. It is enough to take a quick look at some new developments of digital companies to make sure that this statement is not exaggerated.

Facebook is about to create a technology for reading thoughts. The company invests a lot in brain-computer interface developments, and we may very soon witness the first posts written directly by thought. Ilon Musk also invests resources in this type of technology and sees in them a way to deal with artificial intelligence when it becomes powerful enough. Therefore, the visionary billionaire created the company Neuralink, which develops its own brain-computer interfaces with the purpose of adding mental capacity to our heads. Apple, in turn, has created an iPhone-related cochlear implant for hearing impaired people that allows the streaming of sounds, calls and music straight into their ears. Amazon and Google are also interested in biotech and the medical segment and in the coming months, we will probably hear news from them in this area.

Life Digitalisation

Today, the first of its kind digital-biological converters, created at the J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI) – the organisation of perhaps the most popular scientist in the field of genetics, J. Craig Venter, is already working. With his help, we can now bioprint proteins, but the goal is much more ambitious – the creation in the future of entire organisms based on the digital information about them. According to Venter, this will allow a process, which he calls “biological teleportation” – the sending of living organisms from a distance in the form of a digital code and their printing on the spot. In this way, they will be able to spread even in space. Back on Earth, this new technology can have a huge application in agriculture, medicine or the food industry.

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