Biomedical researchers worldwide in early 2020 focused their brainpower on COVID-19 as the plague swept the planet. Less than a year later, they had several effective vaccines.
This remarkable achievement was made possible by recent scientific and medical advances, none more stunning than CRISPR technology, a genetic-editing technique first developed a decade ago. In nature, CRISPR is a naturally occurring genetic sequence that enables an immune response that bacteria use to fight viral infections. Basically, this microbial immune system allows bacteria to recognize genetic sequences in viruses and target them for destruction.
But CRISPR is just one of many technology breakthroughs that have led to astonishing investment opportunities, both in medical and industrial applications. Companies are increasingly combining biology, data analytics and artificial intelligence to solve hard problems in both industry and healthcare.
Here are some examples reflected in AMG’s private investment strategies via the Cupola venture funds:
MelonFrost – This firm focuses on growing novel organisms, using machine learning and evolutionary biology, to make viruses that treat disease, bacteria that eat plastic, and yeast that produce food, fuel and drugs.
Solugen is an industrial biotechnology firm that develops and manufactures proprietary enzymes and bioreactors to produce bulk and specialty chemicals using cheap, bio-based feedstock. Solugen’s process avoids the typical highly volatile petrochemical inputs in its manufacturing process, allowing for a cost-effective, safe and scalable operation with a negative carbon footprint. The company’s bio-based chemicals are used in everything from spa cleaning to disinfecting wipes to wastewater treatments for oil-and-gas runoff.
Checkerspot uses synthetic biology and chemistry to develop novel, bioderived materials. Using commercial fermentation, Checkerspost has unlocked new building blocks for industrial production of materials. The idea is to develop and create rather than extract and refine. For instance, the company has created a plastic derived from microalgae that has been used to manufacture snow skis.
Verge Genomics – Using machine learning to analyze patient databases, this drug-discovery platform is working to find new treatments for neurological diseases, specifically Parkinson’s, dementia and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. The approach allows the company to reduce costs by focusing research on treatments with the most potential.
Berkeley Yeast – Using metabolic engineering, this enterprise is developing new yeast strains for breweries and wineries by adding new genetic material to traditional workhorse strains. New strains must prove their worth in taste tests at the company’s pilot brewery.
Parthenon Therapeutics – This endeavor is developing monoclonal antibody therapies to combat recalcitrant cancers faster and more effectively in specific patients. The company’s drug-discovery platform reprograms and interacts with the tumor microenvironment to treat the cancerous cells.