Tech is rapidly shaking up the traditional healthcare market in ways that could be described as both exciting and terrifying. Fortunately for investors, these disruptions are also creating new opportunities to solve some of the biggest health-related challenges facing the world today.
The following infographic from MW Homecare shows how healthcare is being impacted by emerging technologies and startup companies.
Healthcare: the big picture
Today’s healthcare industry faces many hurdles that are driving up costs. Political and economic uncertainty, an aging population, and a growing prevalence of chronic diseases are all contributing factors in the global push to find more cost-effective healthcare solutions.
The entire healthcare industry, from insurance providers to drug manufacturers, is seeking opportunities to reduce costs through modern technologies. This is playing into a wider trend towards a more personalized and efficient approach to healthcare. For investors, some of the most interesting crossroads between technology and healthcare may be found in big data, cybersecurity, developing markets, and strategic partnerships.
The collection and storage of large amounts of medical data, made possible by recent technological advancements, is helping healthcare professionals improve the quality of medical care, from research to diagnosis and treatment.
Investor interest in digital health startups that use big data to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of healthcare is increasing. These companies attracted $5.8 billion in funding in 2015, according to CB Insights – an increase of 20% over the previous year.
While technology is disrupting the healthcare industry in many positive ways, it’s also creating new challenges that will need to be addressed with greater urgency moving forward. One issue is the world’s growing reliance on cloud-based technology, which can place personal medical data at risk of security breaches.
Cyberattacks and IP theft are a growing threat to healthcare companies. According to Deloitte’s 2016 Global Life Sciences Outlook, in 2011 the U.K. government claimed that its life sciences and healthcare industry suffered $2.9 billion in losses due to IP theft.
Currently, each country has its own complex regulatory and compliance systems which act as gatekeepers in the development of medical products. While these systems are necessary in order to ensure the safety and credibility of products before they go to market, they often clash with technology’s rapid pace of innovation.
Although the U.S. has been a leader in health tech innovation, current regulatory and compliance models tend to hold back progression. Digital health companies face heavy regulations in the U.S., which is causing investors to seek out new opportunities in developing markets such as China and India – two nations facing extreme healthcare costs against a backdrop of large aging populations and a rapid increase in chronic diseases such as cancer and diabetes.
China, with more than 185 million residents currently over the age of 60, is set to become the world’s most aged society by 2030. The Chinese government has responded to this looming economic threat by opening up opportunities for private foreign investment into its healthcare sector. As part of China’s recently implemented 13th Five-Year Plan, foreign senior care operators are now permitted to set up wholly–foreign owned enterprises (WFOE) in China, and are eligible to receive tax incentives, administrative fee exemptions and deductions and waivers. Chinese health companies are also seeking opportunities in foreign health technologies that will help China meet its domestic healthcare needs.
A trend that has been occurring with more frequency in recent years is the establishment of partnerships between tech giants and healthcare startups. For example, by partnering with Epic Systems in 2014, Apple’s Healthkit platform was able to integrate substantial amounts of patient data to leverage its digital health and tracking technologies.
Mergers and acquisitions within the digital health tech space have also been steadily growing over the last few years. In fact 2016 has been a record-breaking year for digital health tech M&A, with 41 deals in total – a solid increase over 2015’s total of 36 deals and 2014’s total of 33 deals. Many of these mergers and acquisitions are strategic moves by healthcare retail companies looking to build up their marketing presence and customer interaction platforms.
As technology continues to act as a catalyst for rapidly changing market dynamics within the healthcare industry, it is likely that strategic partnerships, co-investments, and M&A will continue to be key drivers of growth.
Synthetic Biology: The $3.6 Trillion Science Changing Life as We Know It
The field of synthetic biology could solve problems in a wide range of industries, from medicine to agriculture—here’s how.
How Synthetic Biology Could Change Life as we Know it
Synthetic biology (synbio) is a field of science that redesigns organisms in an effort to enhance and support human life. According to one projection, this rapidly growing field of science is expected to reach $28.8 billion in global revenue by 2026.
Although it has the potential to transform many aspects of society, things could go horribly wrong if synbio is used for malicious or unethical reasons. This infographic explores the opportunities and potential risks that this budding field of science has to offer.
What is Synthetic Biology?
We’ve covered the basics of synbio in previous work, but as a refresher, here’s a quick explanation of what synbio is and how it works.
Synbio is an area of scientific research that involves editing and redesigning different biological components and systems in various organisms.
It’s like genetic engineering but done at a more granular level—while genetic engineering transfers ready-made genetic material between organisms, synbio can build new genetic material from scratch.
The Opportunities of Synbio
This field of science has a plethora of real-world applications that could transform our everyday lives. A study by McKinsey found over 400 potential uses for synbio, which were broken down into four main categories:
- Human health and performance
- Agriculture and food
- Consumer products and services
- Materials and energy production
If those potential uses become reality in the coming years, they could have a direct economic impact of up to $3.6 trillion per year by 2030-2040.
1. Human Health and Performance
The medical and health sector is predicted to be significantly influenced by synbio, with an economic impact of up to $1.3 trillion each year by 2030-2040.
Synbio has a wide range of medical applications. For instance, it can be used to manipulate biological pathways in yeast to produce an anti-malaria treatment.
It could also enhance gene therapy. Using synbio techniques, the British biotech company Touchlight Genetics is working on a way to build synthetic DNA without the use of bacteria, which would be a game-changer for the field of gene therapy.
2. Agriculture and Food
Synbio has the potential to make a big splash in the agricultural sector as well—up to $1.2 trillion per year by as early as 2030.
One example of this is synbio’s role in cellular agriculture, which is when meat is created from cells directly. The cost of creating lab-grown meat has decreased significantly in recent years, and because of this, various startups around the world are beginning to develop a variety of cell-based meat products.
3. Consumer Products and Services
Using synthetic biology, products could be tailored to suit an individual’s unique needs. This would be useful in fields such as genetic ancestry testing, gene therapy, and age-related skin procedures.
By 2030-2040, synthetic biology could have an economic impact on consumer products and services to the tune of up to $800 billion per year.
4. Materials and Energy Production
Synbio could also be used to boost efficiency in clean energy and biofuel production. For instance, microalgae are currently being “reprogrammed” to produce clean energy in an economically feasible way.
This, along with other material and energy improvements through synbio methods, could have a direct economic impact of up to $300 billion each year.
The Potential Risks of Synbio
While the potential economic and societal benefits of synthetic biology are vast, there are a number of risks to be aware of as well:
- Unintended biological consequences: Making tweaks to any biological system can have ripple effects across entire ecosystems or species. When any sort of lifeform is manipulated, things don’t always go according to plan.
- Moral issues: How far we’re comfortable going with synbio depends on our values. Certain synbio applications, such as embryo editing, are controversial. If these types of applications become mainstream, they could have massive societal implications, with the potential to increase polarization within communities.
- Unequal access: Innovation and progress in synbio is happening faster in wealthier countries than it is in developing ones. If this trend continues, access to these types of technology may not be equal worldwide. We’ve already witnessed this type of access gap during the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, where a majority of vaccines have been administered in rich countries.
- Bioweaponry: Synbio could be used to recreate viruses, or manipulate bacteria to make it more dangerous, if used with ill intent.
According to a group of scientists at the University of Edinburgh, communication between the public, synthetic biologists, and political decision-makers is crucial so that these societal and environmental risks can be mitigated.
Balancing Risk and Reward
Despite the risks involved, innovation in synbio is happening at a rapid pace.
By 2030, most people will have likely eaten, worn, or been treated by a product created by synthetic biology, according to synthetic biologist Christopher A. Voigt.
Our choices today will dictate the future of synbio, and how we navigate through this space will have a massive impact on our future—for better, or for worse.
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