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Tech bio is not the same thing as biotech. Tech bio uses computing and biological systems in concert, to accelerate the development of new biological products. Why is this happening now? Well, just as the cost of technology has dropped through economics of scale, the same has happened with technology associated with biological sequencing. We’re down to $1000 per genome now, a massive reduction from where it was a decade ago.
With this increase in molecular data, we also now have the tech to analyse and understand that data. We’ve all seen the power of millions of data points in the tech world, via things like YouTube recommendations or accurate estimates of how long it will take you to get to the airport.
The programmable cell
The paradigm shift is to see a cell as software, as something we can program. Can we use the same design, build and test principles we use in tech for biological products? That’s the idea.
Not only has DNA sequencing changed, so has the ability to synthesise it. We’re gaining sequence data at an exponential rate – and that opens the door to precision medicine. Drugs could be engineered for a specific individual’s biology.
Tech bio companies are becoming horizontally orientated. They’re not end-to-end, whole-system, vertically integrated companies. Instead, they’re becoming niche experts at one layer of the tech bio stack.
The Tech Bio Stack
They start on the raw material layer: people who can build and sell biological products. Some specialise in DNA, others in bioengineering. They produce products to be used by other companies.
Layer two is the product development layer. They will create the tools for bio product design: software infrastructure that can aid in designing an entire organism, as well as gathering data from experimental cells.
Then you have a manufacturing layer, which can take those designs and manufacture them at scale. As the COVID vaccines showed, that’s not easy. It’s a real challenge.
And the final layer before the end product is the regulatory later. This is a product that is going to affect the basic embodiment of our existence. And so, inevitably, it’s a highly regulated market. The research cycle can be 7 to 10 years, and cost billions of dollars, so there needs to be a dialogue to allow them to move faster.
And finally, you get to the end-user layer. Tech bio has the potential to impact everything we consume and produce.
The market potential of tech bio
McKinsey predicted that the market will hit $4 trillion between 2030 and 2040. But, to take advantage of that, we need to change our funding models, away from vertical companies towards bio platforms.
The potential is huge: bacteria that can extract minerals needed for electric batteries from the soil. Lab-growth leather that can help fashion address sustainability issues.
Tech bio is here. And here to say. And it will change how we produce and consume products.
Loretta Tioiela is the co-founder & Managing Partner of Next Sequence, a new venture firm incubated at VC Lab.