Tech and healthcare are working together in the COVID-19 pandemic to benefit the greater good. That’s why CNBC has predicted that both industries, including biopharma and biotech, will make gains in 2021. COVID-19 has put biopharma in the limelight and big-name tech investors are moving in: for example, tech entrepreneur and Facebook co-founder Peter Thiel recently joined a $35.4 million Series B round for Peptilogics.
Biopharma has made strides in 2020 and is on track for even more milestones in 2021. Big data and machine learning have helped biopharma better understand biological systems and diseases, and have enabled drug discovery, and pre-clinical testing. Such high-tech tools have helped accelerate the pace of innovation by being able to perform high-throughput virtual testing of large databases of molecules to find treatments.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, biopharma has persevered and collaborated at record speed to adapt and incorporate new technologies that can expedite innovation to find treatments and vaccines for the novel coronavirus. The industry has relied heavily on artificial intelligence (AI) and big data to help with the real-time development of vaccines. For example, the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine took 42 days to develop, from mRNA sequence selection to clinical testing, due to the use of computer modeling to help determine what part of the novel coronavirus’s spike protein would be best equipped to be used in the vaccine. Similarly, Eli Lilly used AbCellera’s AI-driven therapeutic antibody drug discovery platform to identify relevant antibodies needed for the treatment in a period of just three months.
In 2020, software technology helped reduce the high amount of risk inherent in the pharma industry. By using AI for mRNA sequence selection, Moderna saved itself the trouble of years of pre-clinical research, as can be standard in drug development and discovery. What’s more, by using computer modelling to identify compounds for therapeutics, this has saved time and failures later on down the line that could occur after a decade or more of clinical trials testing.
Now that we have proven a way to reduce the risk of clinical failures and could potentially speed up drug development in multiple areas of unmet need, the biopharma sector is becoming a more attractive asset class. Machines can help us find drugs that would be normally researched by scientists in labs for years, perhaps even decades, with a high risk of failure once the drug of interest got to clinical trials. Other drugs being worked on in non-COVID-19-related therapeutics use machine learning that helps pick compounds as well. Now that Moderna has found success with the mRNA-1273 vaccine for COVID-19, they are launching new vaccines, including an HIV mRNA vaccine.
Biopharma, despite the inherent risk, is also seen as recession-proof — “the demand for life-saving medications is not going to change,” regardless of the time, as Patti Seymour of BDO states. Furthermore, even in economically tough times, healthcare expenditure has stayed the same or increased. Currently, we are at all-time market highs and can expect a pullback or dip. Healthcare innovation is a necessity, though, especially in a pandemic — biopharma is a place to invest for the long term.
Healthcare presents an attractive opportunity, with biotech, medical devices, and medical services, to shine. With significant opportunities to capture above-market gains and beat the market, healthcare may prove a lucrative investment this year.