David Grimm, Investment Director
We made a very safe bet by saying we wouldn’t see huge leaps forward in quantum hardware last year, and whilst there were some very exciting enabling developments we didn’t see bigger qubit numbers or big advancements in fidelity – they are coming, but patience is the name of the game in quantum.
Rather than playing it safe and forecasting that something won’t happen we’re happy to predict something that will happen next year: 2022 will be the year that hydrogen will become unstoppable.
It’s had a few false dawns in the past but the world has woken up to the climate disaster and hydrogen’s energy density means it has to be a big part of our future, co-existing and complementing battery technology. Governments are now waking up to this and piling more capital into infrastructure. We need better and bigger electrolysers to help make this happen, so we’ll see lots of investment and research pushing those technologies on. Fast refuelling times will give hydrogen an advantage in the transport and logistics sectors so we’ll see fuel cell companies designing specific stacks for larger vans, aeroplanes and industrial vehicles. That’s why we’re so excited about Bramble Energy’s future as their technology has a unique flexibility allowing it to rapidly make bespoke stacks for emerging use cases.
Simon Goldman, Life Science Investment Director
The fortunes of ‘traditional’ gene therapies will continue to diverge in 2022. Systemic delivery of naturally occurring AAV gene therapies will still face safety issues in the clinic given particularly the high doses at which they’re being administered, producing a narrow therapeutic window. There is potential for success with targeted approaches such as retinal and CNS-delivered AAV, and for products with novel capsids that minimise immune response or enable lower dosing for equivalent efficacy. Meanwhile, although ex vivo lentiviral gene therapy has in general maintained its good efficacy/safety record, performance will be driven instead by demonstration of commercial success and evidence that market access is achievable. Newer modalities such as gene editing, non-viral gene delivery, and gene therapy using re-engineered viral backbones both AAV and lenti will progress through preclinical development and sometimes even into clinic. A nuanced picture but given the continued increase in interest, activity and funding, it’s patients that will stand to gain the most.
Dominik Leisi, Life Science Investor
2021 was certainly a big year for AI biotech, there were several astonishingly large funding rounds, IPOs and collaborations with big pharmaceutical companies announced. With the risk of sounding to state the obvious, I believe that 2022 will see an even bigger leap forward in the use of data and computing power within the biotech field. But more importantly we will see these models getting further validated in the lab and more importantly in the clinic.
AI based drug discovery certainly has and will continue to make big headlines, especially considering that first AI discovered drugs are expected to read out in the clinic. Likewise, new and improved powerful tools such as alphafold will generate even more interest in computational biology and its applicability.
While more and more biological and clinical data is generated, e.g. whole-genome sequencing and imaging, I believe that UCL is in a position to overcome one of the key challenges namely to combine these data and synthesis these into useful, relevant and validated systems. The increased pan-UCL collaborations, supported with its strong clinical network, will undoubtedly lead to new therapeutic targets, better biomarkers, more targeted treatment approaches and better diagnostics to mention just a few. As such I am looking forward to working on numerous projects that aim to validate new technologies that have their origins in biological computing.
Tanel Ozdemir, Life Science Investor
Ever since the development of next generation sequencing (NGS), we’ve long been promised the age of precision cancer medicine where we can rapidly diagnose patients and treat them with targeted therapies for better outcomes. The complex interplay of human genetics and cancer biology, along with the practical real-world difficulties in delivering precision diagnostics, has thus far hampered our progress within this cause. However, I think we’re now at a critical juncture and 2022 will demonstrate that we have in fact reached the age of precision cancer medicine.
As of writing, I’d argue that we’re no longer beholden to the slow, complex, and expensive use of NGS for patient diagnosis. There is now a whole host of different molecular assays that enable us to accurately detect actionable molecular or genetic markers in a rapid, multiplexed and cheap manner. Coupled to this, our repertoire of therapies has significantly expanded to include new targeted treatments like checkpoint inhibitors, PARP inhibitors, and antibody-drug conjugates. With each new successful treatment pathway, we gain a better understanding of the different routes by which we can target cancer. The use of incredibly powerful and novel research tools like CRISPR screens, multiplex single-cell analysis, and advanced bioinformatic pipelines will only increase the speed at which we identify and test novel targets. As well as faster target discovery, we’re also getting much better at running cheaper and more effective clinical trials. Researchers at institutions like UCL, with 7 world-leading academic clinical research centres and 23 associated partner hospitals, will continue to be at the forefront of this field and I eagerly look forward to working with them through the UCL Technology Fund.