THE NEXT FRONTIER IN MEDICINE: KEY TAKEAWAYS FROM HELLO TOMORROW
Updated: Jul 20, 2022
The Hello Tomorrow Global Summit is Europe’s top deep tech conference. Bringing together some of the most exciting and innovative deep tech champions. Topics covered ranged from solving our biggest societal challenges to new VC trends.
Included in the event were our own Emil Hewage (BIOS CEO) and Catherine Hanley (ATI Programme Manager). AI and deep tech industry expert Virgile Audi of Mubadala Capital Ventures led the discussion on the key trends emerging in the healthcare industry now and in the near future.
Watch the full session or read the highlights below for the key takeaways.
Deep tech in Europe is maturing
Back in 2014, startups defining themselves as “tech companies” were on the increase. So much so, and in so many disciplines, that it was becoming increasingly difficult to refer to subsets in the tech space. Then the term “deep tech” began gaining momentum.
Deep tech is the blending of tech and science to solve the world’s biggest scientific and engineering challenges. It is characterised by being incredibly difficult and requires a high level of expertise from the founders and team in their fields, or combines multiple fields of expertise. Many investors have struggled to see how to effectively support early-stage companies in this space and commercialise their products.
But they argue that deep tech in Europe is growing up:
“What is certain about the future is that there are many more issues coming, but Europe has a lot of deep tech technologies incubating. In healthcare, deep tech is really fertile ground for these next-generation solutions.” Emil Hewage CEO, BIOS
Arguably the next 40-50 deep tech unicorns could come from Europe as more and more companies are emerging with new innovations and meaningful applications to tackle the big issues.
Forward thinkers like Virgile Audi at Mubadala Capital Ventures agree with this prediction. Since 2016 Mubadala has been supporting deep tech with over 100 investments across the US, Europe, and Asia, including some of the biggest names in the space like Exscientia:
“We’re really committed to deep tech and it’s a key pillar of our investment strategy... Our key differentiator at Mubadala Capital Ventures is our ability to accompany founders in the long run. Both in terms of capital and commercialisation to accomplish their vision.”
Mubadala Capital Ventures
This view is catching on beyond deep tech investors. COVID-19 may have been the cause of a health crisis and many changes to the world, but it has also encouraged changes in the way we think about tackling urgent, real-world dilemmas. Investors and platform providers are now beginning to work together on effectively assessing technology maturity and USP, in relation to ideal timing for market entry. And of course, the payoff in solving these huge world issues and entering the market at the right time, are the huge returns.
Moderna is a key example of a deep tech success story. Struggling to prove itself for years, it needed a lot of sponsorship to figure out how to write and edit parts of our genome. However, Emil noted, “the strength of the issue that needed fixing encouraged investor confidence in their capabilities to develop a vaccine.”
Increases in terms like ‘TechBio’ show an understanding that there’s a position in the market for the “Platform Bio” business. That is, one platform with lots of programmes running in parallel. Emil sees the TechBio community easily emulating this, using tech as the core of the platform while developing a variety of therapies dependant upon it. Platforms based on the partnership of various disciplines, organisations, and associations with science and engineering.
The burden of chronic disease is growing
Longer lives and complex lifestyles mean that we struggle to stay healthy. Because of this, diseases that are harder to treat e.g., chronic diseases, are on the increase.
But medical costs are rising, drug discovery costs are exponential with few breakthroughs, and healthcare systems are struggling to keep pace with the rising number of patients. The current system simply isn’t working.
This does not mean that all hope is lost. Genomics was given as an example of a major scientific breakthrough that had major real-world implications for patients, especially in the rare disease and cancer spaces. Technology that enables scientists to sequence whole genomes in hours, read and edit DNA, using techniques like CRISPR, and using AI to profile personalised treatments means that many breakthroughs have been discovered for patients at significantly lower costs and time than before.
“The ability to read and write DNA allows us to profile people and diseases like never before. We’re on the crest of a new wave in healthcare, and once we’re able to profile using the nervous system, it will change medicine forever.” Catherine Hanley ATI Programme Manager, BIOS
If DNA is the body’s hard drive, then the nervous system is the body’s internet. Catherine Hanley explained that “the nervous system is incredibly important to how our body functions every second, but we actually have very little insight into it.
It controls all our organs and when it malfunctions, it can cause major diseases. Researchers and doctors knew the nervous system was important, but until very recently we couldn’t understand it in a data-led, detailed way.” She explained that BIOS is pioneering the technology to read and write neural signals using AI and neural interfaces, providing the technical foundations on which to develop new treatments for chronic disease.
The fact is, that we are standing on the shoulders of decades of investment of speeding up and translating AI insights and decades of building understanding in biology. So, it took decades of research to get to where we are today with genomics, the expectation is that we will get there relatively quickly in neural.
“We see neural information becoming a critical part of the drug development pipelines and also neural digital therapies as alternatives to drugs, stimulating nerves instead of drugs and giving second-by-second personalised treatments. This will mean fewer side effects and better, more targeted, more seamless treatments.” Emil Hewage CEO, BIOS
The future patient experience is seamless and personalised
Healthcare has become more “consumer-friendly” and it is what patients are expecting more and more. The rise of remote health wearables (such as the Apple Watch and Fitbit) is already assisting clinicians in gathering quantifiable disease progression data and making it easy for patients to get more insight into their health.
But this is still not the case for the vast majority of healthcare and medicine. The norm today is still patients waiting weeks or months to see any results from pills or interventions and having very little insight into their progress.
In BIOS’s vision of the future, patients’ healthcare experience will be seamless. Doctors won’t be forced to try a multitude of treatments and wait to see which of them worked. But instead, they’ll be able make subtle and continuous interventions with new algorithms tailored to the patient’s needs and uploaded to the smart implant. The hardware is already here, so it’s not a great leap to imagine new subscriptions specifically tailored to the patient’s needs being uploaded to medical “app stores” for the patient to download - in a similar way we would download music from Spotify.
Emil says: "Our bodies run on an evolved neural software. The best way for you to be looking after your health is to be constantly aware of when that code is ‘off’ for how you normally are and to have those conversations with your doctor. The moment the next discovery, that becomes a ‘software discovery update’ that you can download. Your doctor will then say ‘this new discovery is just right for you’ and then the whole community can then start to give you those updates. There’s a hugely interesting future there because 60 trillion dollars of chronic disease spending could get more affordable, so it could become a trillion-dollar software market. And the products could be a Spotify subscription for health: give me the playlist for Virgile! That’s the really cool bit about working with our nervous system.”
Heart disease is the first chronic disease BIOS is tackling as part of its mission to have an impact on people’s lives and improve healthcare, but the plan is to create the infrastructure for lots more discoveries to occur. Existing studies have already shown promise in inflammatory diseases like arthritis, autoimmune diseases such as Crohn’s, and respiratory diseases. All of which have strong neural pathways. Studies have even been carried out using neural stimulation for treatment-resistant depression.
“What excites us as investors in deep tech is both the ability to back life changing technologies but also really differentiated science. Deep tech isn’t consumer… it takes time to get it right. It takes time to get the right investors, the right partners to help you to achieve the super bold vision that you guys have in pushing the frontier of medicine.” Virgile Audi Mubadala Capital Ventures
Between the changes in attitudes to investing in deep tech and TechBio companies, and the advancements being made in neural pathway research, it seems like we are on the verge of a new era in therapeutics. New understanding of the body’s nervous system and its control over the body’s organs and functions, coupled with innovative patient response hardware like fitness watches, are leading towards Neural Digital Therapies (NDTs) becoming the next major breakthrough for a massive range of chronic diseases - a breakthrough field of therapeutics which no doubt will not only affect millions of lives, but introduce a new market worth trillions of dollars.
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