Creating a healthier tomorrow—in the lab

27 Jan, 2020

Creating a healthier tomorrow—in the lab

Healthcare is at the very beginning of a dramatic, technology-driven revolution that is transforming the industry as we know it. The convergence of robotics, AI, and life sciences has enabled breakthrough advancements that touch every aspect of healthcare. As a result, the healthcare AI market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 47-50% by 2025, a value of $36B[1]. One driver of this technology-driven revolution is the field of genetic engineering.

Genetic engineering, or the manipulation of an organism’s genes through the use of biotechnology, is evolving rapidly due to advances in next-generation sequencing technology. In our report, 2020 Trends in Robotics, AI, and Healthcare Innovation, we discussed recent advancements by gene editing companies in the ROBO Global Healthcare Technology & Innovation Index (ticker: HTEC). Another area that is taking genetic engineering to a different level is synthetic biology—a science that is creating a host of new opportunities for discovery, from drug development and designing new plants, to creating entirely new food flavors.

What is synthetic biology? Put simply, it’s the process of redesigning organisms by engineering them to have new abilities—or ‘genetic engineering 2.0.’ In a recent interview with Bloomberg, Jason Kelly, CEO at Ginkgo Bioworks, explained the process like this:

“Think of a cell. It’s kind of like a little machine that runs on digital code, very similar to a computer, except in this case the code—instead of zeros and ones, it’s A’s, T’s, C’s, and G’s. The cell reads that code, and it does all the things that a cell does in our body—or a bird’s body or bacteria in a river. They’re all running on that digital code. We can read that code with DNA sequencing and can write that code with DNA synthesis or DNA printing. If you can read and write that code, and you have a machine that’ll run it, that’s programming. So synthetic biology is programming cells like we program computers, by changing the DNA code inside them.”

Synthetic biology has the potential to extend to nearly every industry, especially in healthcare. ROBO Global provides exposure to this theme in multiple investment strategies.  For example, Tecan, a member of both the HTEC and ROBO indexes offers automated solutions that cover the complete synthetic biology workflow, from gene expression profiling to next-generation sequencing, to cloning of genes into carrier organisms. On the private side, Ginkgo Bioworks is applying synthetic biology to help solve some of our biggest challenges in healthcare, pharmaceuticals, manufacturing, petrochemicals, agriculture, and more.

Synthetic proteins

Beyond Meat grabbed headlines and much investor attention when it closed its first day of trading up 163%. And while plant-based meats like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, makers of the Impossible Burger, may currently have the largest brand recognition at the moment, synthetic biology is being put to work by a host of other companies to deliver on the promise of meat-like foods that are not only healthier, but that also reduce the greenhouse emissions associated with traditional animal-based agriculture. Despite the clinical-sounding name, synthetic proteins are attractive to a growing target market, including vegetarians and vegans, animal welfare advocates, and the healthcare industry.

Edible bacteria

 While synthetic proteins may produce healthier foods in the lab, the healthcare industry is applying synthetic biology to help us live healthier lives by creating engineered bacteria in the lab. Uncovering new strategies for battling epidemics and pandemics is a top priority—and even more pressing amid the current outbreak of the coronavirus. Creating bacteria such as antibodies or vaccines in the lab and delivering them in an edible format could greatly reduce the cost and increase the speed of vaccine production in an epidemic. Luckily, rapid progress is being made.

CHAIN Biotech is engineering bacterial ‘chassis’ that can deliver living microbes into a patient through a simple capsule. The patient takes the capsule by mouth, and the synthetically engineered microbe is ingested to prevent and treat chronic diseases of the gut, such as inflammatory bowel disease and the bacterial infection called clostridium difficile, or C. diff.

Prokarium uses a similar approach, in this case using synthetically engineered bacteria as a delivery system for vaccines. The engineered bacteria retain their natural ability to survive inside human cells after being ingested, making it an ideal way to deliver and produce medicines from inside the cells in the human body.

Technology-led innovation and the future of healthcare

Synthetic biology has the potential to extend into many industries, especially in healthcare. At ROBO Global, we anticipate that this technology revolution will profoundly transform the healthcare industry, creating immense disruption in which current businesses will disappear, commoditization will reduce margins, and new sectors will offer new profit opportunities.


To learn more about the ROBO Global Healthcare Technology & Innovation Index and how it offers exposure to one of the most important investment opportunities of the decade, download the ROBO Global HTEC Investment Case at


[1] MarketsandMarkets Research