In this week’s roundup, we take a look at life sciences fundraising totals from 2020, which was a record year for the industry in the capital markets. Silicon Valley Bank provides a detailed look at the numbers and provides insights into what to expect this year.
Other news this week included Bluebird Bio’s announcement about splitting into two companies, the promise of quantum computing in drug design, the increased investment in biotech companies that focus on infectious disease, and how mRNA platforms offer promise for diseases beyond COVID-19.
Each week, we aggregate industry news and highlight five things you need to know about in the life sciences space. Here’s the latest.
2020 smashed capital markets records for life sciences companies
Each year, Silicon Valley Bank puts out this summary of the prior year’s capital markets activity for life sciences, health tech and health care. 2020 saw nearly $17 billion in new venture funds raised and a record $51 billion in total capital invested in health care and life sciences. Although the bank expects the totals in 2021 to be lower, it still expects north of $40 billion in new investments this year.
Bluebird Bio to split into an oncology company and a rare disease company
Bluebird Bio has been known for its work in both gene and cellular therapy research. Now, Bluebird will split into two companies, each focusing on different areas of research. The gene therapy unit will become a standalone company focused on rare diseases. The cell therapy unit will become a company focused on oncology. This is an example of the flexibility life sciences companies must exhibit as they adapt to the results of their trials and identify the best way forward. Read more in the piece linked above.
Quantum computing holds promise for drug discovery, and Google wants to help
Google’s quantum computing team and pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim are teaming up to develop new tools for drug design and discovery. Computational simulation and modeling are already a key component of the drug discovery process, but traditional computers lack the processing power to solve many of the complex challenges in this field. Quantum computing promises to solve these computationally intensive experiments more quickly and accurately.
This is one of many recent examples of the growing overlaps between tech advances in artificial intelligence, big data, quantum computing and the cutting edge of drug research.
Investments in infectious disease biotech companies extend beyond COVID-19
Historically, investments in vaccines and infectious disease research have lagged behind other areas of life sciences like oncology and work related to rare diseases. But in the wake of 2020, companies such as Affinivax have drawn additional focus and investment. Affinivax, which focuses on vaccine technologies for infectious diseases, recently raised $226 million to continue its work on a new pneumococcus vaccine to compete with Pfizer’s.
Moderna’s pipeline, beyond COVID-19
2020 was a banner year for Moderna, which quickly became a frontrunner in the race to produce COVID-19 vaccines. With an emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in place for its COVID-19 vaccine, 2021 looks like it will be an even better year for the company as mass distribution of its vaccine gets underway.
But Moderna also has a pipeline of mRNA-based drug candidates, now including two that target HIV. The company’s work further exploring the potential of mRNA is an example of the new promise that mRNA-based vaccines offer now that the COVID-19 vaccines have shown to be safe and effective.
(Bonus read: mRNA is just one of many types of RNA, and it is worth understanding the differences)