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2019: a new era for biotech and life sciences?

January 15 2019

Disruptive waves have hit many sectors in recent years, including media (anyone can now earn money with original content using social media), hotel business (anyone can now run a hotel via Airbnb), taxis (anyone can now run a taxi service using Uber) and many others. Biotech is changing radically as well, but this year may be particularly pivotal. Emerging technologies are piling up that together have the potential to radically shift the dynamics of life sciences and biotech, in ways similar to Airbnb and Uber. But is everyone ready for it?

CRISPR/Cas9: Anyone can edit a gene.

Gene editing used to be a daunting task that required extensive training, expensive equipment and repeated experiments, until very recently. The advent of CRISPR/Cas9 changed this radically: any lab, regardless of its resources, can now edit a gene. Even for home use, there are DIY gene editing kits available online for some time now. (Link)

New expression tech: Anyone can express a protein.

Gene editing usually does not make sense without the ability to express and use it. Current expression systems work well, but only for relatively simple proteins. More complex proteins require specialised expression systems and elaborate fine-tuning. A process that needs to be repeated for every scaling step. New expression systems can change this and make protein-based experiments and therapeutic development much shorter, cheaper and more scalable, taking away key hurdles for any lab or any company to work with any protein they like. One such emerging technology is Lenio Bio’s ALiCE. (Link)

Experiments in the cloud: Anyone can perform an experiment.

Traditionally, performing a biological experiment requires technique, equipment, a lab and experience. This is changing with the advent of ‘experiments in the cloud’. Here I am not referring to the computational experiments we are all familiar with, but biological experiments. Not so long from now, anyone can send the protocol of an experiment to companies like Actoris (Link) and their robotic setups will perform the experiment in a highly controlled and repeatable setting.

Open data / FAIR: Anyone can access data.

In many sectors, data is a key business driver (with Google and Facebook being the most prominent examples). The same is currently true in life sciences and biotech: many labs rely on proprietary datasets for their scientific output. Do research conduct principles allow holding back scientific data? Especially if society paid for acquiring the data in the first place? The European Commission does not think so and is pushing open science, and open data in particular. It is likely that FP9 / Horizon Europe will only allow opting out in special cases. Over the next years, this will open up a wealth of new data, ready for any researcher to leverage.

That these emerging technologies will affect the dynamics of life sciences and biotech is without doubt. But how? And, how to prepare? How will this affect the IP and business strategies of biotech? If techniques, data and infrastructure are (more) common goods, how should a researcher or research group distinguish itself and build a long-term scientific strategy? How will this affect PhD training?

An exciting future ahead

At this moment, it takes a magic mirror to answer these questions, but in all cases, they provide exciting perspectives for the future. At ttopstart, we operate at the forefront of these developments. We continuously work with our clients to prepare for what is coming and leverage these developments to create new business models and smarter research strategies.

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ir. Jasper Levink