Healthcare systems globally are pressured by aging populations, rising number of chronic patients and sharp increases in the costs of developing new medical treatments. Covid-19 has further magnified the urgent need to develop better, cheaper and faster solutions, which has resulted in an aggressive push to rethink current models. This revolution is fostering a new multidisciplinary approach within life science and health innovation known as bioconvergence and spearheaded by Israel and the US.
Bioconvergence is an approach to research and technology development that cuts across disciplines and sector boundaries. Bioconvergence integrates science, tools, and ways of thinking from disciplines of biology, chemistry, physics, engineering, medicine, mathematics and computational sciences, as well as other life sciences verticals. The result is the ability to address unresolved challenges in new ways and push the border of life science discovery, thereby speeding up diagnostic processes and drug development. Bioconvergence covers a wide variety of focus areas such as drug discovery, nanorobotics for drug delivery, regenerative medicine, diagnostics and biological sensors, optogenetics, bioelectronics, engineered "living" materials.
Bioconvergence is a widely applied approach in in Israel and US that has the potential to become an important tool for advancing life sciences and the healthcare industry. In the end, this will translate into better health and higher quality of life for people worldwide.
It is believed that Bioconvergence will have a transforming effect on personalized and precision medicine. Bioconvergence will change the standards of care and patient management towards a more efficient way of treating and potentially reversing illnesses, ameliorating healthcare systems, lowering innovation costs, improving patient management and fighting healthcare inequality around the world.
The areas where bioconvergence will be especially valuable include the development of new drugs involving AI and big data, robotics in automated healthcare, bioinformatics, automated analysis, and the digitalization of the healthcare industry.
Israel has taken considerable steps to increase bioconvergence activity in the country, expecting it to become one of the primary growth engines of the future economy. The most significant tool is the "incubator program", where the authority provides 85% of a start-ups budget for the first two years through incubators, innovation labs, and venture funds.
Israel's prominent life science industry is a strong magnet and facilitator of the bioconvergence field. With more than 1600 life science companies, expertise in areas such as genomics, information technology, robotics, AI, and nanotechnology, 600 medical device firms, 500 AI-driven health care companies, and R&D centres created by multinational companies such as Medtronic, Philips, and GE, Israel is well positioned to lead the bioconvergence revolution.
Bioconvergence has developed organically as multidisciplinary research is an integrated part of the Israeli academic culture. Furthermore, universities are generally highly regarded and emphasize natural sciences and STEM subjects, thus making bioconvergence an ideal development area.
Israeli start-ups focusing on bioconvergence have increased rapidly in recent years, with over 80 start-ups within the bioconvergence field.
The Israeli bioconvergence sector is seeing a significant increase in interest from investors. Investments in the sector crossed the US$1B mark for the first time in 2021, doubling the previous year's amount. Multinationals, hospitals, and private equity firms are increasingly investing in bioconvergence through incubators and joint venture capital firms. Prominent examples include eHealth ventures, AION labs, and MindUp.
There are two levels of governance acts supporting the US in becoming a leading country for innovation and life sciences – the federal level and the state level The federal level includes a national strategy and national priorities. At the state level, the strategy applied depends on each states individual priorities, its economic and social situation as well as its local resources. Each level of governance remains a key driver in developing leading innovation ecosystems across the US and promoting bioconvergence.
The Greater Boston area is home to 18 of the 20 biggest pharma companies in the world and more than 1000 biotech companies, ranging from small start-ups to billion-dollar pharmaceutical companies. The biopharma industry remains an important stakeholder with capabilities to finance high-risk projects as well as scaleup solutions that has been conceptualized in R&D and help them through the early commercialization phases.
Universities in the Greater Boston area have created specific education programmes about entrepreneurship in biotech. Examples of universities combining biotech training with entrepreneurial elements include the Martin Trust Center from MIT and The Center for Research Innovation from North Eastern University. Bioconvergence is also reflected in the way research centres are now innovating in collaborating with the industry and start-ups from the area. An example of this is the Marble Centre for Cancer Nanomedicine that developed the Convergence Scholars Program and the Industry Affiliate program at the Marble Centre for Nanomedicine (IAMNAN) to drive bioconvergence with the ecosystem.
Many of the biotech start-ups in Boston are the result of concepts developed in academia with a bioconvergence approach. Boston, by nature, is a hub gathering technical expertise from the best engineering schools and research institutions and clinical centres of the US, allowing close interaction between experts from various disciplines when scaling up start-ups solutions. Hospitals also play an important role within the course of accelerating biotech innovation to address emergent needs across the healthcare value chain. They have developed their own curriculum to train entrepreneurs and clinicians within life sciences and healthcare.
The market size of life sciences has made the US an attractive place for investors focused on the life science industry. The concentration of these players plays an important role for the efficacy of the US and specifically for the Greater Boston Area in terms of delivering the promises of bioconvergence. In 2021, biopharma companies with headquarters in Massachusetts received US$ 13.66B in venture capital funding – a 70% increase year over year, setting a new record and eclipsing the combined VC funding from 2019 and 2020. Corporates increasingly invest in bioconvergence through incubator programmes and venture funds. For some of them such as Flagship Pioneering, the bioconvergence of disciplines is a pre-requisite to institutional innovation ultimately to further investments.
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