Dealing with future pandemics
One key positive outcome arising from the Covid-19 crisis was the seamless collaboration between the private and public sectors on the research and development of diagnostics, vaccines and therapeutics. This has resulted in the unprecedented global roll-out of several powerful vaccines in less than a year, a process which typically takes 10 years. Being able to apply a similar approach to future pandemics or even areas like oncology could lead to the development of other significant medical solutions.
Other lessons discussed by the panel included the need to invest more in the domestic production of medical products and their supply chains. Governments need to proactively prepare for the inevitable next pandemic, as future outbreaks could stem from unexpected sources and be even more devastating.
Innovation in the healthcare industry
The panel observed that the healthcare industry was going through an exciting period of rapid innovation and change. There are now many more private companies relative to public companies. Previously, to be a successful investor in biotech, one needed to have knowledge of at least 15 changing areas of medicine, but this has now increased to 50 to 60. While there is significant competition with more capital targeting the sector, there are also a lot more opportunities.
Before the 1990s, there were only small-molecule drugs like Aspirin or Advil. The birth of the biotech industry in the 1990s led to the development of protein drugs and monoclonal antibodies. And in this decade, new treatment modalities have emerged including cell therapy, gene therapy, gene-editing, siRNA (small interfering ribonucleic acid) and mRNA (messenger RNA). The panel was hopeful that a lot of biological problems could be solved in the coming years meaning more advances for patients. Also, because these new modalities are less easy to genericise than small molecules, the industry’s revenue streams are likely to be more durable over the next 10 or 15 years. Another area of investor interest is the science of anti-aging including cellular rejuvenation and epigenetic reprogramming.