COVID-19 TRIGGERS ACCELERATED INVESTMENT IN AI, NANOTECH

Economic forecasts say the fallout from COVID-19 is driving huge investment within AI and nanotechnology

COVID-19 TRIGGERS ACCELERATED INVESTMENT  IN AI, NANOTECH

The COVID-19 pandemic and its far-reaching health and economic effects have proved to the world beyond doubt that existing healthcare solutions and technologies aren’t enough to prevent such a catastrophe. It is also increasingly clear that there are inefficiencies in the current centralised healthcare model that lead to poor outcomes, especially in treating cancers, mental health, cardiovascular conditions and the emerging challenge known as long COVID.

On a positive note, experts and industry analysts are of the opinion that these challenges — and attempts to address them — are triggering the greatest transformation in healthcare technologies since World War II. The acceleration of investment in these technologies reflects the recognition that the world cannot afford the human and economic cost of another pandemic.

Industry data shows that 70% of global healthcare spend in the last few months was on just trying to save lives.

Experts say that fresh investments are taking place in areas such as nanotechnology-based diagnostics, biomarkers, vaccines, novel therapies, highly targeted nanomedicines and AI. This should facilitate the move to a more sustainable, digitised, decentralised and democratised and point-of-care-based approach in medicine.

Switch to accelerated model

Investors are already switching to a tech-enabled model, away from traditional healthcare to point-of-care and precision medicine. This delivers sustainable healthcare economics as well as improved life and longevity. Such investment is expected to bring transformational impact and returns over the next decade and beyond.

The trend was apparent even before COVID-19 and investments in healthcare technology in the second half of 2020 already reached record levels and is set to climb significantly over the next decade. Naturally, several large investment groups and fund managers are weighing innovative options that can bring in much-needed transformation in healthcare in order to prepare the world to face future challenges.

“Globally, we have had to deal with Ebola, Zika Virus, bird flu, and now COVID-19 in one decade. The economy must adapt to a new future, where prevention and early intervention as well as the use of AI to drive more sustainable models for healthcare and investment [is the norm],” said Paul Stannard, chairman and general partner of Vector Innovation Fund, a Luxembourg-based alternative international investment vehicle specialising in support for technology companies able to transform global markets.

Vector Innovation Fund has developed a unique gateway fund for innovative and disruptive technologies targeting current and future pandemics and transforming global healthcare. It also recently launched a $300 million sub-fund for pandemic protection and future healthcare with an aim to enable precision medicine, highly advanced point of care and AI technologies to support the global economy, sustainable healthcare and longevity.

A recent report by KPMG and HFS Research highlighted how companies and governments need to make smart investments in emerging technologies if they are to prevail against future pandemics. According to a KPMG-HFS report, 65% of the 900 global executives polled agreed that they can’t avoid making such investments without threatening their own existence.

Paul Sheedy, founder of The World Nano Foundation, an international not-for-profit organisation for the commercialisation of nanoscale technologies, said: “Nanomedicine and the decoding of the genome have been enhancing healthcare for a number of years, but the pandemic has catapulted healthcare investment creating a “hockey stick” effect for investors.

“This includes vastly improved home testing and advanced diagnostics, where we know outcomes are significantly improved through early intervention. In addition, highly
targeted precision medicines or therapies are going to transform all forms of healthcare, allowing us to work in parallel with and then ultimately move away from the current archaic centralised healthcare system delivery.”

VIF’s Stannard adds: “We have brought together some of the world’s leading figures in biomedicine, advanced diagnostics, nano biomarkers, telemedicine, AI and machine learning to accelerate these transformational technologies into the markets, backed by sophisticated and institutional investors creating one of the most dynamic international investment funds.”

Invisible particles that fight cancer cells, faster microprocessors that consume less energy, diagnostic applications, drug delivery process and systems, batteries that last 10 times longer or solar panels that yield twice as much energy — these are just some of the many applications of nanotechnology, a discipline with all the ingredients to trigger the next industrial revolution.

This branch of technology manipulates the molecular structure of materials to change their intrinsic properties and develop new materials with revolutionary applications.

“One example of this is the profound change in telemedicine in just a few months. These technology solutions for GPs and patients have allowed us to monitor and support many more patients during this pandemic – the start of an unstoppable transformation,” says Dr CN Ramchand, founder & CEO of Chennai-based Saksin LifeSciences, and CEO, MagGenome Technologies.

Groundswell of investments

According to Stannard, many of the previous investment criteria were holding back innovation and only reinforcing the broken, property-focused and centralised models for healthcare. Innovators have proved that they can develop and commercialise novel technologies, and have some approved within months instead of years. This trend will advance beyond the current crisis, which is creating this groundswell of pent-up investment in advanced technologies.

Nanotechnology is forecast to grow by more than double from $54.2 billion to $126.8 billion by 2027 and will create a positive force for change when combined with AI and machine learning, which are forecast on their own to soar 22.5% a year through to 2027 from the $284.38 billion market of 2019.

“We are going to see these twin forces of innovation transform how we live, work, and manage our health in real-time as well as develop sustainable models for everything from food production and energy to transport and pollution, all of which improve health and well-being,” says Sheedy.

The world of philanthropy and impact investing is also undergoing significant change as we realise that we must advance everything from healthcare for all – with a more affordable point of care – to climate change, improved biodiversity, and reversing pollution, he added.

Naz Bashir, trustee of global technology charity World Science Aid, said: “The world has suddenly woken up to the fact that the global challenges of healthcare, pollution and climate change must now be tackled head-on.

“The pandemic has proved that money has no value without sustainable life and a stable economy. The world has reinforced the mistakes of supporting tired funding models for too long, and one positive outcome from the current global crisis is the recognition that we now need to invest for the future, and that these new technologies can right some of the wrongs of the past. For instance, two billion of the world’s seven billion people still do not have access to clean water or a simple point-of-care technology.

“The next generation deserves and demands a better future that these enabling technologies can offer our governments and investors towards building a better post-pandemic future,” added Bashir.

—Article courtesy: Nano Magazine and additional inputs from FM team.

(Data credit: Precedence Research 2020, Longevity International Summit 2019)

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