Dr Dale Athey builds connections between people, enterprises, and markets. He has extensive experience in strategy development, business development and implementation in research and technology-intensive businesses. His credible scientific and commercial background enables him to communicate effectively across teams and at all levels. This combined with his experience of working within small and large corporates and in founding and growing his own life science companies enables him to develop strong and lasting relationships with clients.
It’s time again for a look at what the year ahead may bring for the Health and Life Sciences industry. I’d hoped to talk about what a post-pandemic world looked like, but while we’ve come a long way in the last 12 months, Omicron means we can’t yet put this pandemic behind us. The industry (as with most others) has been shaped by the pandemic in ways that may be permanent.
Despite the continued pandemic, the biotech IPO market continued to set records in 2021 with a total of 399 companies raising $142.5 billion. Healthcare was the busiest sector, accounting for 36% of the IPO activity, and Seattle cell therapy developer Sana Biotechnology had the biggest biotech IPO of the year ($588M), despite not yet reaching the clinic. Leading companies had strong results and the top biopharma companies have approached $200Bn in cash and borrowing power to fund future mergers and acquisitions – hopefully good news for smaller companies seeking to partner in 2022.
New ways of doing business
A clear sign that we’re not yet ready to fully emerge from the shadow of the pandemic is the news that January’s annual JP Morgan Healthcare Investor conference was online only. Deals slowed in the last year as chance encounters at events such as this stopped. There will be more virtual conferences and fewer opportunities for that chance meeting with an investor or senior executive that might change the course of your business. We will have to continue to embrace the positives that online networking can provide, make sure we invest wisely the savings of time and money from reduced travel and continue to review and refine our online presence and practices.
Managing the virus
I talked last year about vaccine development, and this is truly a remarkable success story that the sector can be proud of, with industry, government, academia and the public working together with a common cause.
Our amazing researchers and healthcare professionals are learning how to prevent, diagnose and treat this virus more every day, but the virus is not yet defeated, and we must ensure the advances made and lessons learned are built upon for a brighter future.
I previously mentioned the diagnostics industry stepping up and a range of rapid and sensitive tests are now on the market. At the time of writing, however, shortages in the supply of diagnostics (particularly lateral flow tests) are a cause of concern. In order to maximize the benefit of new treatments and to shut down spread, we need access to readily available, inexpensive (free), accurate, rapid diagnostic tests.
The pandemic has hopefully demonstrated the broader value of diagnostics in healthcare. Going forward we will see the further deployment of near-patient diagnostics (with connectivity) for all kinds of acute and chronic conditions.
We will also see accelerated developments in early diagnostics for a range of conditions such as dementia, prostate cancer, and other conditions where there are clear unmet needs. Indeed the year ended with some substantial deals in the diagnostics area, such as Quidels $6Bn acquisition of Ortho Clinical Diagnostics.
Anti-viral drugs are now becoming available, and while these have not had the publicity of the vaccines, they will play an increasingly important role going forward as we adapt to life with the C19.
Problems with healthcare access and delivery have been exposed by COVID-19, and digital developments have been accelerated as a result, a key driver being the delivery of care closer to the consumer.
This has fuelled a massive increase in the number of physicians and healthcare practitioners practising online. General physicians can prescribe medicines through virtual clinics, and virtual diagnosis is becoming a reality.
Digital health continued to attract the attention of investors, big tech and traditional healthcare players with mental health a top-funded therapeutic focus in 2021 with >$3.1B raised . While there remain challenges in reimbursement and regulation, the year ended with a number of deals.
Becton Dickinson acquired Scanwell Health, a provider of smartphone-based at-home tests, providing a way to expand its presence in digital at-home testing for infectious diseases, and Oracle acquired electronic healthcare record (EHR) company Cerner for $28.3 billion.
In 2022 we will see continued adoption of digital tools to assist in research, treatment and data collection, with applications in telehealth, remote patient monitoring devices, health trackers, mobile devices, mobile health apps, and technologies for managing health information such as electronic health records.
Digital innovation at pharmaceutical companies is also in full swing and big pharma will continue to acquire, partner and innovate in areas from digital therapeutics to remote clinical trials to connected drug delivery devices.
In addition, artificial intelligence (AI) is being harnessed for drug development with pharmaceutical companies are making strategic investments in promising digital health companies.
In 2022 we will see more digital therapeutics emerge onto the market, and pharma companies and start-ups working together to collect real-world data, and continued investments in decentralized clinical trials.
Despite 2021 being dominated by C19, biopharma still managed to deliver 55 new drugs.
Some applications did face pandemic challenges as the regulators struggled to keep up with inspection duties during the pandemic, but following the emergency development and approval of C19 vaccines, huge efforts have been made to speed up the process of testing and approving new drugs in other areas too.
Data is being used to speed up this process by allowing simulations of interactions between medicines and the human body, rather than having to rely on costly, time-consuming human trials for every stage of the process.
The FDA’s real-time oncology review program - a drug testing and review process that has been greatly accelerated by the inclusion of biotech data is a good example.
In 2022 expect to see more developments in this field, hopefully leading to quicker development of more effective drugs and treatments.
Bigger challenges to come
While the pandemic has understandably consumed the attention of the sector in the past two years, we can’t ignore the global issues that provide future challenges and opportunities for the Life Science industry.
Anti-microbial resistance (AMR) which happens when microbes develop the ability to defeat the drugs designed to kill them is a major threat. It can affect people at any stage of life, and the healthcare, veterinary, and agriculture industries making it one of the world’s most urgent public health problems.
If antibiotics lose their effectiveness, then we lose the ability to treat infections and control these public health threats.
After last years COP26 meeting in Glasgow, Sustainability and Net Zero are also back in focus. If we are to meet our urgent goals then the Health and Life Science industries will play a key role.
Investment in growing a bio-economy will help address net-zero activity and reduce reliance on petrochemicals facilitating the transition from economies largely based on fossil fuels to more modern, cleaner models, fit for the future, supporting net-zero ambitions.
An example is the flourishing ’clean meat’ sector which provides a cleaner alternative to slaughtered meat, both in terms of sanitation and environmental impact, requiring 99% less land and 96% less water than traditional animal agriculture, while enabling faster production.
Since a $330,000 lab-grown burger was reported in 2013, scientists and start-ups are working hard to bring the price down to commercially viable levels. There are now >70 companies operating in the sector, and last year saw further investments, such as Israeli start-up Future Meats record-breaking $347M fundraise.
The pandemic has accelerated both the development and adoption of Life Sciences and Health technologies while demonstrating that the Life Sciences Industry and Research community can play a pivotal role in providing solutions to major global challenges.
While putting the pandemic fully in the ‘rear-view mirror’ may have to wait until next January’s piece, we can still be optimistic as to the exciting growth opportunities for the sector in 2022.