The death of SynthBio companies and my other predictions for Biotech in 2023
The death of the synthetic biology company and the rise of consumer biotech. I’ma be honest, I’ve been pushing on the consumer biotech thing before everyone else thought it was cool. Growth for a company in the consumer space can take advantage of modern marketing techniques and the network effects and virality on social media. At The ODIN we have always sold our genetic engineering kits directly to consumers. Until around 2018ish the only really consumer biotech companies were fake meat companies like Memphis Meats aka Upside Foods. Even then, they aren’t real consumer companies because none of them have actually ever brought a biotech product to the consumer market. However, in the past few years we have seen a pivot of many traditional “Synthetic Biology” companies to making consumer products. Amyris, Bolt Threads, Geltor and others have pivoted to the cosmetics and beauty market. We are starting to see the failure of the platform/foundry style synthetic biology business model because creating synthetic biology products period, much less ones that can generate revenue, is a toughy even for the big names likes Gingko Bioworks and Amyris. I imagine that's why Amyris shifted and is set to bring in over $150 million in 2022 from consumer products alone and have been growing around 100% year over year. Look for consumer biotech companies to get even hotter.
The difficult realities of in vivo CRISPR gene editing therapies set in and funding slows. CRISPR’s use in human cells has been going on for about a decade. And while we have been promised the world, the only real success CRISPR has had in therapeutics is with ex vivo editing. Taking patient cells and editing them outside the body and putting them back in. So called CAR-T cell therapy is the most well-known example of this. While there have been a number of attempts at in vivo editing, using CRISPR gene editing on cells inside a patient’s body, none have really worked out. To date, the best success has been a therapy for ATTR amyloidosis but even then the treatment doesn’t actually prevent progression of the disease despite gene editing successfully. This therapy had high hopes because it was a liver target and therapies tend to accumulate in the liver, giving them a higher likelihood of success. The other low hanging fruit is eye therapies because of the immune privileged nature of the eye. One of the three FDA approved non-CRISPR gene therapies targets the eye, Luxturna. CRISPR clinical trials for eye disease have not progressed, implying that results have been very limited. I’m not saying we will never see in vivo CRISPR therapies. Look at RNA, it took 20ish years to mature into an FDA approved medicine. From the outlook right now I imagine in vivo CRISPR therapies are on the same track.
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Fake meat companies will pivot to plant based meat. Cellular agriculture, lab grown meat or whatever you want to call it, has never been feasible. The economic scaling of this technology just isn’t possible. Animals are such efficient bioreactors for meat cells while industrial metal bioreactors are so bad at the same thing. Even at extremely low cost of goods it’s hard to compete with cattle beef at $5-$10 per lbs. On top of that, industrial bioreactor systems are extremely expensive to build. While someone can buy a pasture for thousands or maybe hundreds of thousands at most, building a bioreactor system that can produce 23,000 lbs of meat a year costs $150 million. At $10 per pound, it would take 652 years for a return on investment. Relate this to the cattle industry that produces billions of pounds of beef a year. Plant-based meat products are efficient and are as scalable as animal farming. They also taste pretty good. I think the best we will get in the next 25 years with lab grown meat is a product that contains lots of fillers and very little animal cells. Look for the pivot as these companies run out of funding and run into regulation issues.
Bioreactors are so hot right now. If you are doing anything in biotech right now, chances are that you need to use a bioreactor. Fake meat? Bioreactor. Gene therapies? Bioreactor. Antibody drugs? Bioreactor. Synth Bio chemicals? Bioreactor. Biotech is moving much much slower than it could because the demand for bioreactor usage is greater than our demand to see Andrew Tate in prison. #TeamGreta And the capacity can't keep up. Once people start to catch on I am sure we will see VCs throw themselves at it faster than a start-up created by a 23-year-old white male Stanford dropout named some shit like Benson. Bioreactors could use alot of innovation so hopefully this is an area that gets lots of R&D.