The healthcare industry kicks off each new year not when the ball drops in Times Square but with the start of the annual JP Morgan Healthcare Conference. Across the biotech sector, it’s one of the most important conferences, bringing together corporate leaders from pharma, tools companies, diagnostic developers, and more.
This year, we were honored to be included in the event. Our CEO, Sri Kosaraju, was invited to participate in a panel discussion about the promise of synthetic biology. His fellow panelists included Max Bronstein, Assistant Director for Health Innovation at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, Jason Kelly, CEO of Ginkgo Bioworks, and Gregory Yep who is the EVP, Chief Research & Development, Global Integrated Solutions and Sustainability Officer, and EC Member at International Flavors & Fragrances (IFF). The discussion was moderated by Tycho Peterson from JP Morgan and Ipsita Smolinski from Capitol Street.
If you missed the session, not to worry! We rounded up some of the highlights. You can also listen to the recording here.
1: Scale Matters
While synthetic biology was once limited to the corners of a handful of academic labs, widespread adoption in recent years has married synthetic biology to applied research in a number of industries. “The scale of this is too large not to pay attention to,” Kosaraju said. He expects to see synthetic biology play a significant role in healthcare, manufacturing, the environment, and more. Ginkgo’s Kelly called out cell and gene therapies as one particular area that could see major improvement from synthetic biology approaches.
2: Big Strides
Yep noted that the implementation of synthetic biology has made big strides in recent years, with advances being incorporated into consumer products for home and personal care, nutrition, food, and more. At this point, he said, it is very likely that consumers are regularly encountering products made by IFF using synthetic biology technology. Examples include enzymes that allow laundry to be cleaned effectively in cold water, bio-based vanilla, and novel fragrances.
In order for many companies to achieve their sustainability goals, they will have to abandon traditional manufacturing processes. Synthetic biology-powered manufacturing is an ideal alternative, enabling more efficient production while requiring less resources. “I don’t think we can get to sustainable innovation without [synthetic biology],” Yep added. This approach also allows companies to boost production without increasing their manufacturing footprint, a much-needed advantage for areas with little room for expansion.
While the capital markets have helped expand access to synthetic biology capabilities, government funding would offer a whole new level of growth for this field. “It’ll be a blowout sector if we have the involvement of the government,” Kosaraju said. Bronstein noted that President Biden has prioritized investment in healthcare and life sciences, demonstrated in part by elevating the science advisor to a cabinet-level position and, for the first time, choosing a biologist for that role. “The pace of innovation in the synbio space is really exciting,” Bronstein said.
As the session concluded, Kosaraju noted that the time has come to focus on execution rather than conceptualization. “We can all advocate the vision of what this could become, but now it’s time to pivot to what we can actually accomplish today,” he said. There is no question that the opportunity exists, he added; it’s up to the companies and researchers in this field to prove how valuable synthetic biology will be across industries and applications.