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Innovation Watch – 2014

Last year was a banner year for the life science industry. The IPO market was hotter than almost anyone predicted. In fact there were 52 IPOs in the United States which collectively raised approximately $7 billion. This was a spectacular jump up from the previous year with only 16 IPOs and $1. 1B raised. Global Mergers and acquisitions were up too from $108.9B in 2012 to $131. 8B in 2013. This includes the high visibility acquisition of Life Technologies by ThermoFisher Scientific for $13. 6B. Private financing was still challenging in 2013, with only a modest increase (2%) from 2012 to $11. 5B. So as 2014 begins to unfold, what are some technologies and trends to keep an eye on? Check out Burrill & Company’s predictions for 2014and here are a few of my picks.

Sequencing: The appetite for faster and cheaper sequencing will continue to grow in 2014. This will be driven by a continued growth in personalized medicine and molecular diagnostics in general. Illumina and Thermo/Life Technologies will continue to develop breakthrough technologies in next-generation sequencing. In fact, Illumina just announced an accelerator program for entrepreneurs in the NGS space. Other large suppliers, such as Perkin Elmer, Qiagen and Agilent will aim to move more solidly into the NGS market through acquisitions as they did in 2012 (eg. Ingenuity, Caliper, CLC Bio). Interestingly, the WallStreet Journal recently included Thermo, Agilent and Perkin Elmer in their “best life science stocks” to watch in 2014. This week the Advances in Genome Biology and Technology (AGBT) meeting offered a rare opportunity to see what NabSys, GnuBio, Oxford Nanopore and other emerging companies have all been up to. Concurrently, there will also be advances on the informatics side to help process and interpret the reams of data being generated. Companies to watch here include Seven Bridges and Bina Technologies as bioinformatics take on an increasingly important role in this space.

Synthetic biology: Advances in gene construction and gene editing will continue to provide advances that will impact a myriad of application areas including stem cell research, gene therapy and the development new enzymes, biological pathways and molecular detectors. Gen9 Bio is a company to watch and is dramatically driving down the costs of synthesizing oligos, constructs, and synthetic genes which is sure to transform the way scientists plan experiments. The use of CRISPR methods for gene editing will begin to phase out zinc fingers and Talens. Flagship Ventures recently launched Editas Medicine, a new company that leverages genome editing technology to develop a novel class of human therapeutics. Also, I predict there will be further advancements in the area of 3D DNA printers that Craig Venter has promoted. Practical applications may not be available today, but the promise of writing DNA code, sending it through the internet to print out vaccines in remote places where needed is fascinating.

Focus on the Human Brain: The Human Genome Project (HGP) led to countless discoveries that impact the way we study biology today. The Human Brain Project (HBP) has been active for a couple of years, but is now moving into the ramp-up phase. Unlike the HGP which was focused in several large, high-throughput labs, the HBP is scattered in smaller labs and there is broader opportunity for the research community to make contributions. By June 2014, the NIH panel is scheduled to lay out priorities and long term goals for the next decade. One of the goals, developing a brain activity map, will leverage many different technologies ranging from genomics, proteomics, and metabolomics, to stem cell research and synthetic biology. Just as the HGP triggered the development of many supportive technologies, the HBP is already having that impact. For instance, Inscopix has developed a miniaturized microscopes for direct imaging of live mouse brains in order to measure neural activity. Brown University is developing a brain-computer interface (BCI), a device that interfaces computers with the human brain to measure brain activity. Eventually the BCI will offer the promise of moving prosthetic limbs using only thoughts.

So all in all, there are some exciting things on the horizon.

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