9 Successful Biotech Startups to Watch in 2021, and 2 Notable Newbies
*This post originally appeared on my IMRADs site. I offer scientific editing, writing, and PR services at Scize.
Together with the rapid development of technology, more biotech start-ups appear every year. I was curious about which ones really are doing unique things.
Some of these companies attract media attention and secure generous financing for their innovations, while others vanish from the market. One thing unites all the biotech companies trying to emerge: they’re seeking breakthroughs. So what are the most promising biotech companies that could change the world? Let’s look at 9 very good candidates.
I do realize this is a US-heavy list, and I’d love to hear your suggestions for those in other countries. The simple fact is the US ones get more press. It’s also no coincidence that they have very good marketing and digital content strategy. Those here in Japan need to do a better job of publicizing themselves, and I can help with this if you get in touch.
9 Pioneering Biotech Companies for 2021
What biotech startups deserve your attention in 2021 and what can you expect from them in the future?
Samumed (San Diego, CA, USA) — Tissue Regeneration
This company has become one of the richest in the industry, but it’s also one of the least known. Its focus is on stem cells.
Samumed seeks to learn how to manipulate these cells to prevent hair loss, as well as for prevention of diseases of the bones, skin, and joints.
Google company founder Osman Kibar and you’ll see photos of him playing poker. Not what you’d expect from a biotech pioneer, but in 2006, Kibar won his very first poker tournament he entered. And a year later he took second place among 3,000 players at the World Series Championship in Las Vegas. Then …. he stopped playing. Mission accomplished?
Instead of poker, Kibar now focuses on the activities of Samumed, which, he says, creates medicines that can reverse the aging process. In general, Samumed is trying to find a way to force the cells of aging people to regenerate as quickly as the growing embryos do.
The first studies show the drugs the company has developed are fairly safe. And they actually stimulate hair growth, reduce pain, and improve joint mobility in arthritis. But it’s important to remember that 80% of the drugs at this stage of development never make it to market. Moreover, biotech investors are spooked by the scandalous Theranos incident that was fully exposed in 2018. Caution is now much higher among inventors and investors.
The question remains open as to whether Kibar found a pharmaceutical source of youth or would be better off going back to poker.
Impact Vision (San Francisco, CA, USA) — Food Analysis
The startup ImpactVision specializes in developing what’s called “hyperspectral technology,” to help determine food quality. The company’s solution lets users simply take a picture of the food and see its condition and ingredients in a web app.
This technology could open huge avenues for real-time management of food quality in production and in on-the-shelf scenarios.
“What we are doing is providing rapid and non-invasive mechanism to assess food quality during the production process, and in real time,” says Abi Ramanan, CEO at ImpactVision.
The solutions can increase consumer safety and decrease food waste.
Proteus Digital Health (Redwood City, CA, USA) — Health Monitoring Tech
Silicon Valley startup Proteus Digital Health is a pioneer in digital therapy. The company boasts over 450 patents and impressive management. It incorporates a system of sensors and apps to monitor health status and drug administration.
A key technology is “smart tablets” with integrated sensors that can track how patients are taking their medication. Once inside the body, the capsule sends signals to the web app, reporting ingestion and the patient’s activity. Proteus teams with Otsuka to integrate this drug delivery method with the popular antipsychotic Abilify (aripiprazole).
A new product launched in January 2019, as Proteus is the world’s first health system to use digital chemotherapy drugs with ingestible sensors for tracking the drug’s absorption in the body.
Smart tablets, however, raise many privacy concerns. They are essentially a microchip in the shell, which could be susceptible to hacking. This would allow, third parties, including insurance companies, to find out about the user’s health condition.
With great technology comes such unforeseen modern-day obstacles.
Ginkgo Bioworks (Boston, MA, USA) — Cellular Biology
This startup strongly believes that bacteria can produce anything, from perfume to drugs. It modifies microorganisms and provides them to partners for use. Last year, Ginkgo formed a $100 million joint venture with Bayer to develop microbes for agricultural needs.
One of the interesting and unusual projects of the company is a recreation of the aroma of long-extinct plants. In the huge herbarium at Harvard University, researchers took samples of tissue Orbexilum stipulatum (which died out around 1881), South African Leucadendron grandiflorum (1806) and Hibiscadelphus (1912) from the Hawaiian island of Maui.
The company’s scientists supplemented the missing fragments with the DNA of living related species, after which the genes responsible for the production of essential oils were introduced into the yeast genome. It presented some of its most promising fragrances at a recent conference in Boston.
Bulb (London, UK) — Renewable Energy
This startup is in the field of eco-technology and energy. It is the UK’s largest supplier of green energy.
Bulb uses several hydropower plants and farm waste to produce renewable energy. The company states this can reduce costs by 20%. It already has 300,000 customers and annual growth of 400%. Co-founder Hayden Wood says: “I was trying to understand my own home energy bills and that led me to Bulb — with a mission to fix everything I saw broken with existing energy suppliers.”
The company hopes customers will continue a transition to Bulb’s services in the same way customers of large banks are moving to small startups like Monzo and Revolut. The startup is even ready to pay a fee on the customers’ behalf for terminating their contracts with traditional energy companies.
Memphis Meats — (San Francisco, CA, USA) — Laboratory-generated Meat
Memphis Meats recently announced plans to, in 2021, start selling chicken meat grown from cultured animal cells. The company is one of the startups developing animal proteins that do not require traditional agricultural methods.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture controls animal meat, dairy, and eggs produced naturally, while the Food and Drug Administration monitors nutritional supplements and products made from human cells.
Meat from a test tube, developed by Memphis, falls into a kind of “legal hole” between these two regulatory agencies, which on the one hand facilitates development, and on the other hand, slows down the product launch into the market.
The company is headed by Mark Post, a professor at Maastricht University (Netherlands). In 2013, Post created the first-ever burger completely grown in a laboratory. At that time, the cost of its production was $330,000. Now scientists say they have done a great deal of work, prices are falling, and new investments will help make the product a widespread success.
Auris Health (Redwood City, CA, USA) — Robotic Medical Devices
This manufacturer of surgical robotics develops minimally invasive treatment methods that should affect only cancer cells and thereby halt the progression of the disease. With this company’s technologies, a qualified surgeon seated at a workstation with a video display controls tumor surgery conducted mainly by robots. The company is currently focusing on lung cancer.
In February, Auris joined Johnson & Johnson “to push the boundaries of what is possible in medical robotics and improve the lives of patients across the globe” as CEO of the company Dr. Moll said. Auris believes that resources of the world’s largest healthcare organization will help to dramatically accelerate the launch of their innovations and develop new advanced solutions in near future.
Indigo Agriculture (Boston, MA, USA) — Agriculture Technology
This company uses some plants, containing beneficial microorganisms responsible for health support to increase other plants’ survival. To do this, they cover seeds with these microbes that should help the future plant to resist pests, droughts, and poor soils. Indigo Ag’s microbial seed treatment was first designed to address water stress in crops, but now their focus goes well beyond that. Currently, they are improving the yield potential of many other plants such as cotton, soybeans, rice, and wheat.
The company claims that, under certain conditions, their crop grows 40% to 70% faster than at normal rates, and at the same time grain quality improves. Even if the actual result is only 10%, this is extremely useful for humanity.
Grail (Menlo Park, CA, USA) — Cancer Detection
Grail plans to change how cancer is diagnosed, by using a blood test. The technology must identify the tiny fragments of cancer DNA circulating in the body. The idea resembles the concept of a liquid biopsy, in which a blood test helps conclude how a tumor responds to treatment even at an early stage.
Results, announced by Grail in 2018, support feasibility of their Highly Specific Blood Test technology for early cancer detection. This technology makes it possible to confirm the active presence of the disease in 65% of previously diagnosed patients. For metastatic cancer, the diagnostic accuracy of the blood test was 95%.
2 More Biotech Companies that Offer Great Promise
Bonus 1: Beam Therapeutics (Cambridge, MA, USA) — Genetic Medicine
The human genome editing startup launched in 2018.
The project is aimed at the commercialization and development of new technology based on the CRISPR system of DNA sequences, which has been successfully used in many laboratories around the world.
In CRISPR technology, to remove or move fragments of a gene, DNA is cut using so-called molecular scissors. Specialists then restore the resulting gap using a natural system called a non-homologous end joining. At the same time, genetic information is changed at the site of the incision. A mutation resultantly occurs in a pre-selected DNA region.
Beam Therapeutics’ Base Editor technology allows changing of individual “letters” of the genetic code without cutting. It thus acts as a molecular pencil, in contrast with the relatively coarse “scissors” of CRISPR. This precise solution could take off in the next few years.
Bonus 2: Intarcia Therapeutics (Boston, MA, USA) — Medical Devices
Intarcia Therapeutics is developing implantable devices to treat chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and HIV. The company receives funding from the Gates Foundation and hopes for the widespread use of its developments. Unfortunately, in 2017 Intarcia failed to convince the FDA of the effectiveness of an implant for treating diabetes. However, in 2018, it made significant progress toward resubmission of a new drug application for the treatment of type 2 diabetes, which it expected to file with the FDA in mid-2019.
Biotechnology is one of the most ambitious and rapidly growing fields in the world as it strives to save lives and improve our everyday life. The biotech industry is very attractive for entrepreneurs, executives, and investors as well, because the payoffs can huge when breakthroughs are made.
The risks are also expensive, but despite this, new startups quite often receive multimillion-dollar investments and media attention, which allows them to move forward and discover new technologies that can bring huge changes to the world.
Adam Goulston is a U.S.-born, Japan-based copywriter, editor, and marketer. He works as a content manager with Japanese SaaS leader Sansan, helping promote the Scan to Salesforce app. His company Scize LLC serves globalizing Asian businesses. He has been published in all sorts of places.