The Top Trends Shaping the Future of Healthcare
The greatest global public health crisis in a century has put the life sciences industry in the spotlight. Called to center stage, the entire industry delivered on innovation and responsiveness. Many of the solutions, therapies, and treatment modalities brought forward, like telemedicine and mRNA vaccines were only available because their core technologies had been under development long before COVID-19.
While the pandemic is still underway, the recent experience of seeing future therapies become today’s treatments — and in the process building billion-dollar businesses — begs the question what does the future look like for healthcare? But before we dive into the future, let’s look at a recent example, courtesy of the pandemic. Moderna has been working on developing mRNA vaccines to fight infectious diseases for the better part of the last decade, however, outside the biotech industry they weren’t a household name. Fast forward to today and their vaccine has been administered to millions of people worldwide while Moderna’s share price has increased 794% over the last year.
As we look toward the future to find the next Moderna out there, we tapped into the Bioverge Network, a cross-functional community of healthcare specialists capable of supporting scientific and technical founders alongside experts to source and conduct diligence on new investment opportunities. These experts, who are building, funding, and deploying the medical breakthroughs of tomorrow, shared their insights on the trends that will shape the future of healthcare.
We found that, in addition to the expected technical advances that enable future discoveries, our experts predicted that highly informed and empowered patients will help shape healthcare delivery.
“Patients are no longer asking, rather demanding, control of their health data — how it is collected, analyzed, and applied to treatment and preventative health,” confirmed Kareem Barghouti, CEO of VastBiome, a company that mines microbiome drugs to treat cancer and autoimmune disease. “Consumers are in the driver’s seat, using devices like smart watches to monitor their vitals. Virtual doctor visits (telehealth) are being more accepted by physicians, not only to offer accessibility options to their patients, but because they may not be in business if they don’t accept the new normal. Patient-centered care will drive the industry, and digital communication tools that create a direct line to providers, payers and pharma will force transparency and accountability to provide quality care.”
Sure enough, recent M&A activity in the space supports Barghouti’s view. In August of 2020, Teladoc, a provider of virtual doctor visits, purchased digital health company Livongo for $18.5 billion. Livongo is a provider of coaching services that help people manage chronic conditions and falls in the category of remote health management, which has seen strong demand since the start of the pandemic.
Sarah Daniels Ph.D., Lead Research Scientist for Thryve, a gut health company that incorporates microbiome testing with personalized dietary and probiotic recommendations, agreed. “As the pandemic continues into 2021, traction for new at-home direct-to-consumer (DTC) testing kits will be fueled by intense consumer curiosity for convenient, economical, and user-friendly ‘second-opinions’ on their health/wellness that may not be covered by their health insurance.”
Like many of the trends driving the future of healthcare, the empowerment of the patient has been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. As VastBiome’s Barghouti observed, “COVID has taught society so much about the pitfalls of our health systems and the need for accelerating innovation across the board. The silver lining is the widespread realization of the urgent need to put more resources into advancing health innovation and R&D.”
The public interest in R&D comes from the stark reminder that healthcare touches everyone’s lives…and out of the exciting new discoveries announced every day. Our Network called out discoveries about the neurological conditions, microbiome, artificial intelligence, and early detection of disease as areas where we’ll see exciting breakthroughs.
BioROSA CEO John Slattery, whose company is developing an accurate blood test for Autism Spectrum disorder, pointed to disorders of the Central Nervous System (CNS) and Neuropsychiatry which include neurodegenerative, neurodevelopmental, neurobehavioral, and mental health related disorders as “an area ripe for disruption.” Sonia Arrison, the Founder of 100 Plus Capital, an impact investing firm focused on companies positively impacting human longevity, agreed that “more research and therapies aimed at improving brain health” are “sorely needed.” Consider Alzheimer’s drug trials have had a 99% failure rate, we couldn’t agree more. While the failure rate in Alzheimer’s is exceedingly high, there clearly remains an enormous unmet medical need and tremendous upside for the company that finally cracks the problem, even if the benefits are incremental.
BioROSA’s Slattery also forecast that discoveries about the microbiome have much to offer in this area, saying, “There has been exciting work that has moved beyond small molecule therapeutics with an emphasis on gut-brain-microbiome connections for addressing challenging disorders such as Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and Parkinson’s Disease along with focuses on neuro-immune connections as new pathways for therapeutics. We see the future as a revolution for disorders of the CNS through earlier detection methods, new and novel therapeutic approaches go from hype to reality (e.g., microbiome therapeutics for CNS disorders). ”
Microbiome developers are, in fact, investing resources into R&D. Dr. Daniels confirmed that Thryve is partnering in virtual clinical trials and providing unified, high quality data sets for those in industry and academic research in a variety of applications — microbiome therapeutics that are derived from microbes (i.e., “bugs as drugs”), foodstuff for microbes (“drugs for bugs”), or chemicals produced by microbes (“drugs from bugs”).
Arrison expressed excitement about the ability to catch cancers early and its potential push up survival rates substantially. Slattery also sees “renewed interests in liquid biopsies for earlier cancer detection and innovative treatment strategies which can lead toward better remission rates, cures, and a preventative medicine model of care.” We believe that these market trends will extend out from cancer into chronic disease management and other major unmet medical needs where timely diagnosis, treatment, and new models/standards of care are implemented that integrate large volumes of data for AI/ML applications to shed to insights for individualized care and more homogenous patient populations. Recent M&A in the space supports Arrison and Slattery’s points, with Illumina acquiring GRAIL, a healthcare company whose mission is focused on multi-cancer early detection, for $8 billion in September of last year.
As in every industry from entertainment to finance, respondents pointed to a growing role for AI in accelerating development and delivery of new therapies. According to VastBiome’s Barghouti “Artificial intelligence/machine learning has a significant role to play in expanding innovation. Two areas I personally am most excited about are the opportunity to re-think the clinical trial process starting with patient recruitment, helping patients identify the best trials for them and separately enabling pharma to identify patients to enroll in their studies within a matter of minutes, not months. This will accelerate trials and provide so much more data to better stratify patients for treatment.”
Slattery agrees, “much like other areas of medicine, a new era of AI/ML which can drive better stratification of patients which can lead toward better tailored treatments and better rates of success for these therapies as they go for FDA clearance.”
Just imagine, if we applied the same effort and urgency we did to fight COVID-19 to some of the other most prevalent diseases that affect us all, like diabetes, Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular disease. What will the world look like after you change it?